It's not obvious, but helping clients apply for government benefits like Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Earned Income Tax Credits (EIC), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is one of the more valuable things we do. Clients do not always have the documentation, transportation, childcare, time off work, and bureaucratic literacy that applications require. Our case managers help clients complete the arduous processes. Without benefits, finding housing becomes more difficult—if not impossible.
SNAP—commonly referred to as "food stamps"—is a key program for the individuals and families we serve. Nearly 40% of our clients (468, including 146 children) received benefits last year, and, every month, we help dozens of people enroll. With basic nutritional support, they can go on to devote income to their housing, transportation, health and behavioral healthcare, and childcare expenses.
Unfortunately, the government just approved a USDA rule that will eliminate states' ability to apply for exemptions to SNAP's federal work requirements. Now, all able-bodied adults without children will have to work a minimum of 20 hours a week to receive SNAP benefits. This will deny food stamps to an estimated 700,000 people, including dozens of our clients.
Defending the decision, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue emphasizes, "We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand," which sounds empowering, albeit in a grouchy grandpaternal way. Like, "after their allowance has been cut off, those whippersnappers will finally muster up some gumption, get off their duffs, and work for their soup." In reality, many who will lose benefits face significant obstacles that didn't exist—or were conveniently overlooked—back when America was great (see sidebar).
In the end, policies like these are based on disconnected policymakers' and their public's suspicion and resentment of anyone seeking government benefits. Sadly, the USDA is only getting started. Other proposals would place stringent requirements on SNAP households' income and assets and reduce program spending by $4.5 billion. They will strip benefits from millions of people (including one million children in free or reduced-price lunch programs) and prevent many more struggling individuals and families from qualifying in the first place.
Community stores, restaurants, and donors ensure that we can feed people experiencing homelessness in our shelters, daytime support centers, and housing programs. Now, with new SNAP regulations, your support for our food programs is more important than ever.
Federal SNAP work requirements ignore that an improved job marked has not created opportunities for everyone. People with extremely low income face significant obstacles
- They may lack educational necessary for steady part time jobs
- They may not be able to secure 20 hours of work per week with an unskilled, low income position.
- They may not have access to transportation to jobs.
- They may be considered "able bodied" under the law but still have chronic illnesses, disabilities, or behavioral health conditions. Applying for SSDI is a time-consuming process that requires legal representation.