Local SNAP Recipients Prepare To Lose Food Stamps In Wake Of New Rule The Trump administration's new rule means roughly 16,500 District residents will lose their access to the critical benefit, plus thousands more in surrounding areas of the region.
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Local SNAP Recipients Prepare To Lose Food Stamps In Wake Of New Rule

Local SNAP Recipients Prepare To Lose Food Stamps In Wake Of New Rule

Sarah Hicks, left, talks with an employee at a job fair held by the District's Department of Human Services. A new Trump administration rule will cut food assistance for nearly 700,000 Americans, also affecting many of their families. Sasha-Ann Simons/WAMU hide caption

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Sasha-Ann Simons/WAMU

Last week, the Trump administration changed the rules regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP — potentially cutting off 16,500 District residents from receiving their food stamps. And it's prompted some recipients to take matters into their own hands to try and avoid the risk.

The rule makes it harder for states to waive the federal program's work requirements in areas where jobs are scarce. It targets a group of people who the government refers to as ABAWDs — "able-bodied adults without dependents" — and who are between 18 and 49 years old. Since 1996, those individuals have been limited to participating in the SNAP program for just three months in a three-year period, unless they are working or volunteering for at least 20 hours per week. But states have been able to waive the time limit as some people struggle to land and keep jobs.

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Nationally, the rule, which will take effect on April 1, 2020, will impact how roughly 688,000 low-income people purchase food. That includes thousands across the Washington region. In Montgomery County, of the 27,071 people receiving food stamps, 3,522 of them are at risk. And officials are still figuring out how many of the 79,369 SNAP recipients in Prince George's County and 43,224 recipients in Fairfax County will be affected.

'It Would Be Devastating'

Sarah Hicks, 37, lives in Southeast D.C. and has benefited from food stamps for the past two years. Coupled with housing assistance, Hicks says SNAP was just the boost she needed after withstanding difficult times. She fits into the category of an ABAWD: though Hicks is a parent, her children do not live with her. The family is, however, in the process of reunification.

"Losing food stamps would impact me tremendously because I don't have the funds to be able to go out and purchase my food on my own," Hicks says.

Hicks has been working on and off as a licensed caregiver. She's currently in between jobs and fears the new rule could cut her off from the benefit before she's able to support herself.

So, Hicks has ramped up her search efforts through the District's SNAP Employment and Training Program. The voluntary program is helping nearly 1,300 SNAP participants in D.C. gain skills, training, or work experience on their path to obtaining regular employment and self-sufficiency.

"We really want to be mindful and respectful of what the individual needs, where they want to go long term, and how we can help them get there," says Geoff King, the program manager.

One week after the new SNAP rule was announced, Hicks attended the program's job fair and was pre-screened for opportunities in her field. King says given the recent changes, he's hoping others in need will enroll in the program for help to find employment.

What If The Economy Goes South?

Research from the Brookings Institution suggests that SNAP is designed to expand during economic downturns, and in doing so, it offers nutrition assistance to low-income families and also provides economic stimulus to communities. Accordingly, researchers say, the new SNAP rule has greatly weakened a crucial part of the safety net for vulnerable populations.

"I know that a lot of people think that we should be limiting access to the safety net, or are disappointed when enrollment levels are high," says Lauren Bauer, a Brookings fellow who focuses on the economy. "But during a recession, to help stop the fall, we want to make sure that as many people as possible who are eligible are on the programs."

Bauer says President Donald Trump's idea of cutting SNAP to encourage employment is counterproductive. She says food stamps were designed so that recipients can get the help they need, while also spending quickly and helping their local economy. Bauer and other critics of the new rule note that work requirements have been shown to not help unemployed people find work and to make it more difficult for them to feed themselves.

"Looking forward, I would be very worried about how the final rule would work if we were to suddenly see ourselves with an economy that was taking a turn for the worse," Bauer says.

SNAP Rule: Who Else Is Affected?

Under the new rule, states can no longer ask the federal government to temporarily waive the work requirement restrictions unless it's for an area with an unemployment rate of 10% or higher or if the state can otherwise prove a lack of sufficient jobs. The rule will impact states differently, depending on which states are currently utilizing a waiver, but eventually, the policy has the potential to impact each state.

People with a proven disability, children and the elderly will not be impacted by the new rule.

The rule change doesn't account for the fact that some people aren't working 20 hours a week because their employer isn't giving them enough hours, or people who are actively searching for work.

And once the rule is implemented, the Capital Area Food Bank expects to see an increase in people relying on its services. CEO Radha Muthiah said on WAMU's The Kojo Nnamdi Show the varying unemployment rates across the wards in the District could further complicate things.

"In Wards 8, 7 and even Ward 5, for that matter, they have unemployment rates that are far higher than the average. So the District would not be able to just request a waiver for certain wards — you do it for the entire District," Muthiah says. "And so this would disproportionately affect those who are already finding it difficult to find close to full-time employment."

In the case of Sarah Hicks, the new rule is already having an impact. Hicks says she's doing her best to ensure the result isn't more hunger and hardship for the family she's working to reunite with soon.

"I mean, everyone needs a crutch in life, but you don't want to continue to use it," Hicks says. "You want to be able to help yourself and be able to use it to the best of your benefit, to be able to work and not have to use it at all."

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