Recent changes to eligibility requirements for the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, SNAP, threaten to increase food insecurity for thousands of Americans who rely on these benefits, according to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service which released a memo to all regional directors of SNAP on June 26, 2015.
This eligibility criteria, enacted by the United States federal government and enforced at the state level, will eliminate access to SNAP benefits for adults between the ages of 18-49 who are non-disabled and have no dependents, also known as Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents, or ABAWDs.
Philabundance, a local food bank serving five counties in Pennsylvania and four in New Jersey, is determined to combat the threat through its commitment to ensuring no man, woman or child go hungry.
In 1996, a time limit for adults without disabilities and dependents to access SNAP was established. The time limit held that ABAWDs can receive SNAP benefits for three months over a 36-month period if they are unemployed. In 2008, at the start of the economic recession, states could apply for a waiver to this ruling. Pennsylvania applied and received the waiver to the time limit.
However, beginning in 2016, unless an ABAWD is working, volunteering, or in an educational or job-training program for at least twenty hours per week, or 80 hours per month, he or she will not receive SNAP benefits according to program guidelines. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Pennsylvania is home to roughly 46,000 ABAWDs.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported in January on these qualifying changes to SNAP.
“The loss of this food assistance, which averages approximately $150 to $170 per person per month for this group, will cause serious hardship among many,” the center’s report reads. “USDA data show that the individuals likely to be cut off by the three-month limit have average monthly income of approximately 17 percent of the poverty line, and they typically qualify for no other income support.”
The center contends that this will result in 500,000 Americans no longer qualifying for SNAP.
Philabundance manages a network of 350 member agencies in the Delaware Valley. This network includes food cupboards, shelter or residential programs, social service agencies, emergency kitchens and neighborhood and church distribution programs. Philabundance also provides food to 90,000 individuals each week through direct neighborhood distribution programs, including Philadelphia Community Kitchen, a culinary job training program, and Fare & Square, a nonprofit supermarket in Chester, Penn.
Emma Kornetsky, an advocacy coordinator with Philabundance, explained that the biggest concern the organization has is the domino effect that this policy will have on many constituents of the food bank.
“When budget cuts are made to SNAP, people need to supplement for food elsewhere,” Kornetsky said. “This impacts many of our partner food pantries.”
Local food pantries will likely see an increase in demand, but most food pantries operate on lean budgets, relying on donations to stock their shelves with food.
There is another exception to this policy which complicates things for Philabundance. A geographical waiver applies to Pennsylvania counties and cities where the unemployment rate is high. As such, ABAWD residents of Philadelphia and Delaware counties will remain eligible to receive SNAP. Those of Chester, Montgomery and Bucks counties will not.
Philabundance is acting with urgency to make this news known to those who will be affected. Their first step is to inform clients who do not already know about this policy and explain what they can do to potentially change their circumstances. Their plan of action includes sending out flyers with information and resources to their network of partner agencies which can then be passed on to consumers most at-risk.
“Getting the information to people is important,” Kornetsky said.
Jennifer Ginsberg graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work from The Catholic University of America in 2011. She has since worked with NGOs in Quito Ecuador and in the Takeo Province of Cambodia. She is a full-time student in Penn’s Nonprofit Leadership program and a practicum associate at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.
This story has been published in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2). In the run up to the 2016 Presidential Election, the school launched “SP2 Penn Top 10, a comprehensive multimedia initiative in which renowned SP2 faculty members analyze and address the most pressing social justice and policy issues.”
Part of the project, is the creation of stories produced by “SP2 Penn Top 10 Fellows,” graduate students from the School who are trained in solution-based journalism using the Journalism for Social Change curriculum.