By Erica Maloney, Data Evaluation Manager, PA Women Work
Hunger in the U.S. may look different than it does in the developing world, but struggling to put food on the table is a serious challenge for nearly 40 million Americans each year. Here in the United States, hunger might look like a mom skipping meals so she can feed her children, a senior who rations medicine in order to have money to buy food, or a child whose parents get behind on school lunch payments. In fact, hunger can even look like obesity because fresh fruits, proteins, and vegetables are expensive and hard to access, while cheap, unhealthy, processed foods abound.
SNAP is a lifeline program that ensures a basic level of nutrition to Americans who struggle to feed themselves and their children. Contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work, do work, and the benefits are modest, at $4 per person, per day. At Pennsylvania Women Work, the overwhelming majority of our clients are eligible for SNAP, which helps them sustain their families while they work hard to develop skills that will empower them to secure new or better employment. However, more than 200,000 Pennsylvanians, including some of our own clients, are at risk of losing their benefits due to a new SNAP rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At PA Women Work, we serve hundreds of people each year who are struggling to find work and put food on the table. This new rule would prevent states from modifying income guidelines to allow people to more gradually exit the program as they increase their income from employment We often work with clients who have to decide between taking a pay raise or losing benefits such as childcare or healthcare. We have observed that hardworking women often lose benefits faster than they increase income, driving them and their children off of a sort of benefits cliff where work no longer increases a family’s spending power. This broken system creates a disincentive to work.
Additionally, this rule would prevent poor families, seniors, and people with disabilities from saving money or keeping their savings (which is almost always a good idea), because the rule would mandate an asset test disqualifying them for benefits. This rule would especially impact seniors and people with disabilities, requiring them to eliminate their savings to access nutrition assistance, leaving them with no safety net. It can also prevent families who are trying to get on their feet from saving money which could help them to break the cycle of poverty.
These mandates proposed by the USDA will expand the poverty trap for millions of Americans, yet they only save taxpayers 2.5 billion dollars, about 6/100ths of one percent (you read that right) of total budget spending. This proposed cut will make it even harder for our clients to support their families while they try to find work, and we hope the administration will reconsider enacting this rule.
If you would like to have your voice heard on this issue, you can make a public comment here.