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Once known as Food Stamps, SNAP — the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program — feeds more than 40 million Americans, including hundreds of thousands in the DMV.
But the Trump administration is moving forward with new rules that will make it tougher for people to qualify for SNAP and get help with their grocery bills.
Hunger experts predict that strict work requirements, now often waived, will take the assistance away from 700,000 people nationally, and a cross-section of the Washington region that relies on SNAP.
Who is likely to feel the brunt of these changes and how are local food banks responding?
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Radha Muthiah President and CEO, Capital Area Food Bank; @Radha_Muthiah
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast some advice for safety conscious gift givers on buying toys for kids. But first thousands of people in the Washington region who rely on the SNAP program, once known as Food Stamps, will soon be tossed off the rolls. That's because new Trump administration rules will make it tougher to qualify for this federal help. Who exactly will these changes affect and how is the Capital Area Food Bank, the Washington region's largest preparing for an increase in demand for their services? Joining me to discuss this is Radha Muthiah, who is President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank. Radha, thank you for joining us.
RADHA MUTHIAHThanks, Kojo, for having me.
NNAMDIFor those who don't know, tell us a little bit about SNAP. What does it stand for and why does it exist?
MUTHIAHSure. So SNAP is the Supplementary Nutrition Program and what it does is it provides those who are living at or below the poverty line with additional support to meet their food needs. So as an example, an individual who might be making up to $2,000 a month in our area would qualify for SNAP benefits to provide extra, you know, provide for meals for themselves and their families.
NNAMDISo what is this new rule that goes into effect on April 1st?
MUTHIAHSo this new rule is basically a rule that's been on the books for several decades now. It's just that the Trump administration is choosing to enforce it at the level that they've currently proposed. So for this rule anybody, who is between the ages of 18 and 49 who doesn't have minor dependents would be required to work 20 hours a week 52 weeks a year in order to be able to qualify for SNAP benefits. Now in the past states and districts, in our case the District of Columbia have had the ability to waive this very severe provision that is really, you know, in effect a road block to enabling individuals to be able to gain employment. And with this new rule they will no longer be able to provide that waiver.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about the distinctions here because it is my understanding that under the current rule states as you pointed out can waive that requirement in areas of high unemployment.
NNAMDIIs it up to the discretion of the state to decide what an area of high unemployment is? Is there a particular standard that's used for that?
MUTHIAHThere isn't one particular standard. So it is very much at the discretion of different states as well as districts to be able to determine what would qualify. And that's why many of them, in fact about 36 of 50 states have been using this waiver over the last 20 plus years. And so we have seen bipartisan administrations in the past grant these waivers as well. This would be the first time come April 1st where those waivers would no longer be granted.
NNAMDIAnd it is my understanding that the waivers can still be granted, but only in areas where unemployment is higher than six percent.
MUTHIAHThat's correct. But let me tell you a little bit of how that is still -- poses a challenge. And to give you an example right here in the District, we may have on average an unemployment rate that is say four-five, you know, percent or so. But as we all know there are parts of the District that have an unemployment rate namely Ward 8, Ward 7, even Ward 5 for that matter, you know, that have unemployment rates that are far higher than that average. And so here we would not -- a district would not be able to just say. For certain wards we would, you know, we would request a waiver. You do it for the entire district or for the entire state. And so this would disproportionately affect those who are already finding it difficult to find, you know, close to full time employment.
NNAMDICould you be more specific about that? Who is this rule going to impact?
MUTHIAHIt is definitely going to impact those of color in a disproportionate way and it is going to impact those who are homeless. It's going to impact those who have lower education backgrounds. Basically the individuals who struggle today to be able to get the jobs that are available. This rule would impact them even further in a negative manner.
NNAMDIThe Agriculture Department, which runs SNAP says this new rule will not affect either children or the disabled. Are you confident about that?
MUTHIAHYou know, it depends on how you define that. If you say will not directly impact, there's some truth to that, but will it indirectly impact seniors, children, etcetera, absolutely. So let me give you an example so that, you know, so it makes it a little bit clearer. You may have a situation where you've got an individual parent. Let's say a father who's living on his own, but receiving these Food Stamp benefits and providing those to his children. He may be providing that as part of his support. But his children don't live with him every day. So it would significantly impact those kids if he as an able bodied adult, you know, between 18 and 49 now may no longer qualify for those Food Stamps.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Radha Muthiah, President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank. How do you expect that fewer people receiving SNAP will affect the Capital Area Food Bank? How much of your clientele relies on SNAP?
MUTHIAHAbout 50 percent of our clients are on SNAP. And we serve about 400,000 individuals in our region. And our region covers all of the District, Northern Virginia as well as suburban Maryland. So we know this will have a significant impact on a portion of that 50 percent of the population whom we work with.
NNAMDIAnd that's just the population we work with. Is there a broader number of people in this area, who receive SNAP benefits and what would that figure look like, that number?
MUTHIAHThey're roughly about 340,000 individuals in our area, who receive SNAP. And if we look at it, you know -- and I think the number that's been floated around at the national level now is this rule would affect about 700,000 individuals around the country. We've done some analysis with the support, you know, Urban Institute and others that have been crunching some numbers as well. And we see that it will be about 15,000 or so individuals directly affected by this rule change in our area.
NNAMDISo the 15,222 people in this are who are likely to be affected will cause a spike in demand for the Capital Area Food Bank. How are you trying to increase the supply of food that the Capital Area Food Bank can distribute?
MUTHIAHSo for those 15,000 people each of them would receive on average about $127 a month in terms of Food Stamp benefits. So when you take that $127 a month that translates to about 36 meals that they would have been able to purchase with those Food Stamps. That's now 36 additional meals that they're going to have to look elsewhere. So when we take those numbers and multiply them through by the 15,000 plus individuals, who will need that food, we're looking at increasing our own spend by slightly over $200,000 a month or about $2.5 million a year to be able to address this need that will present itself on April 1.
NNAMDICan the Capital Area Food Bank afford this kind of hit?
MUTHIAHYou know, the answer to that is we are not meant to replace SNAP benefits for these individuals. We are a supplementary form of nutrition. So, you know, being able to do this would be incredibly difficult. You know, for every meal that the food bank provides there are about nine meals that SNAP benefits provide. So certainly we would not be able to address all, you know, this gap that is now being created.
NNAMDIExplaining this new rule Secretary of Agriculture, Sunny Perdue said that it is about quote, "Moving more able bodied Americans to self-sufficiency." Do you think that's actually going to happen?
MUTHIAHWhat this will do is it's going to take individuals that are barely keeping their heads above water and by yanking out the Food Stamp benefits it's going to plunge them beneath the surface again. So it is not going to help them at all. Many of the individuals and we work so closely with all of them are desperately trying to get work and trying to increase the number of hours that they work. It's just that the jobs that are available and their qualifications don't always match up. So instead of providing, you know, job training and enhancement and work readiness programs those things would be very beneficial, but just to yank out, you know, something that's so critical like Food Stamps just, because they're unable to meet this work requirement 52 weeks of the year I think would be very damaging indeed.
NNAMDIThe Trump administration sites a low national unemployment rate as one of the reasons that it's more strictly enforcing the SNAP work requirement. What do you make of that kind of thinking?
MUTHIAHThe unemployment rate is not even for all segments of population in our society. We have higher rates of unemployment among certain ethnic groups. We have those who face barrier upon barrier that have not allowed them to participate within their regional economy. So looking at just one aggregate average number doesn't tell the entire story.
NNAMDITrump administration is trying to further trim the rolls of SNAP with more rule changes. What will those do?
MUTHIAHWell, you know, there are two additional rules that are likely to go into effect in the April timeframe, and both of those continue to add further restrictions to the one that we've just been discussing. One of them looks at income guidelines and assets that an individual may have. So let me expand upon that one for a moment. If you own a car, let's say and you have a secondhand car that you need, because you need to be able to get to work to get to that job, but say that car is worth more than $2500 and therefore you've got an asset that is larger than $2500 you may no longer qualify for SNAP.
MUTHIAHSo that's what that second rule does in terms of income eligibility and asset base. And the third rule is really around regulation and standardization of utilities and how much can be deducted to see whether you qualify for SNAP. Without even remembering all these details all, you know, someone needs to know is that SNAP, you know, these rules are making it harder and harder for individuals to benefit from SNAP, when that is absolutely what they need to be able to move themselves and their families along more positive pathways in life.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that some in Congress had hoped to themselves legislate tighter restrictions on SNAP, but didn't prevail. What happened?
MUTHIAHSo with the farm bill that just went through I think, you know, steady minds and heads prevailed in the sense that individuals knew that, you know--if you removed this benefit we wouldn't actually have the positive outcomes of enabling people to participate within the economy. So this is definitely an administration guided rule not one that Congress had agreed to or agreed to within the farm bill.
NNAMDIIs there a chance that somehow these changes to SNAP won't actually occur?
MUTHIAHI suppose there's always a chance and we certainly hold out hope that that chance will become reality. And there are different ways I supposed that Congress and others could sue the administration, you know. But we just have a few months. And so while we're hopeful that this won't go through April 1st, we certainly have to start thinking and be prepared on how we might have to support these clients of ours in part, because they will be turning to the food bank and its network if they don't have the ability to get Food Stamps to put food on the table for their families.
NNAMDIA broader question, if people want to help combat hunger and food insecurity in this Washington region, what can and should they do?
MUTHIAHWell, I think first there's still time I hope to be able to advocate members of Congress to be able to do something about this so that this doesn't go into effect in April. And certainly all of us as constituents can do that. Second if that doesn't happen then certainly we will look forward to trying to get some support from our community and our neighbors in need. And people, you know, should feel comfortable going on to the capitalareafoodbank.org to support us financially as well as through their time in terms of volunteering to get food out to those in need.
NNAMDIBecause it certainly seems as if the Capital Area Food Bank is going to need an influx of more funding in order to handle this. Radha Muthiah is President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank. Thank you so much for joining us.
MUTHIAHThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break, when we come back some advice for safety conscious gift givers on buying toys for kids. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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