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JOINT STATEMENT: Families First Coronavirus Response Act passes Congress to provide significant relief during the pandemic: More action still needed

This evening, the President signed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which will greatly increase food security during the uncertain times presented by COVID-19 and the subsequent shelter in place protections taking hold across the country. The Senate passed the bill earlier today. The new law will provide flexibility for SNAP food stamp benefits (known as CalFresh in California) and additional anti-hunger resources like Pandemic EBT, which will prevent hunger among children during school closures. 

The law also funds additional unemployment insurance opportunities, paid sick leave, and free COVID-19 testing. We look forward to working with the Department of Social Services and County Human Services Agencies to implement the new law in California.

Specifically, the law will help Californians with low-incomes in the following ways:

  • Provides $500 in additional WIC funds and provides broad authority to USDA to grant waivers of regulatory requirements through September 30th to ensure we are able to meet the specific nutrition needs of pregnant women, new moms, and young children as WIC adopts new practices to remotely serve participant needs.
  • Provides $400M to support increased distribution of food at food banks. California’s food bank lines have doubled in the past week due to intense community need, these are vital funds for food security.
  • Establishes Pandemic EBT, which enables the state to help reduce hunger as schools close and more counties go to shelter in place. Pandemic EBT offers the quickest and easiest way to get food into the hands of those that who need it most: (1) By providing additional SNAP dollars to current SNAP recipients; and (2) By providing funds to children eligible for free and reduced-price school lunch whose families may not be currently receiving SNAP. 
  • Gives USDA authority to issue waivers to allow non-congregate meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
  • Focuses strategies and additional financial resources on older adult nutrition, since older adults are one of the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19. With Governor Newsom announcing that everyone over 65 should stay home, and an increasing number of counties implementing shelter in place, it’s essential that we target services to keep this population nourished.

This is a tremendous first step in addressing the needs of people living in the United States at this time. We are hopeful that Congress and the President will continue the hard work needed to protect everyone – particularly those most vulnerable to the economic implications brought on by the pandemic. We look forward to seeing an economic stimulus package that works not just to help the economy, but most importantly, to provide relief to families and individuals across the country.

California, 13 other states sue to stop Trump’s food stamp cuts

“Other groups at risk of losing their food stamps include people experiencing homelessness, veterans, people recently out of jail or prison and former foster youth, according to Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

For some, having to provide proof of working 20 hours per week may become a roadblock.

“They will have to go through a lot of hurdles to verify eligibility,” Bartholow said. “A lot of people don’t work in places that regularly provide a printed time-sheet.”

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New Trump rule could eliminate food stamps for almost 200,000 Californians

“It will require almost every county to enforce the harsh time limit on providing nutrition assistance for adults who are working less than 20 hours each week, no matter how hard they are looking for a job, have irregular schedules, or are employed but unable to document their hours,” said Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.”

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Statement on Western Center’s Opposition to Rule Change for Out-of-Work or Under-Employed SNAP Food Benefit Recipients 

The Trump administration published a rule today to cut SNAP benefits (food stamps) for hundreds of thousands of people who are out of work or under-employed. The government refers to these individuals as “able-bodied adults without dependents” or “ABAWDs.” The new rule circumvents the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress last December that rejected changes to SNAP ABAWD policy, a move which violates administrative law.

Western Center on Law & Poverty and our allies plan to fight the rule and protect our clients from the short and long-term harm of hunger that will result from its implementation.

Under existing law and guidance, people the government deems “ABAWDs” can only access food benefits for three months in a 36-month time period, but states have been given flexibility to waive the three-month time limit in counties and areas with insufficient jobs. The rule published by the Trump administration today removes these important protections which have been in place for over 20 years.

We are still analyzing the final rule, which is significantly different than the proposed rule, but we believe it will still result in unprecedented cuts to the country’s most successful anti-hunger program. There are approximately 700,000 Californians classified as ABAWDs who could be impacted by the rule. The USDA estimates the rule will cut over $5 billion in SNAP benefits to low-income Americans over the next five years.

The administration asserts that the rule will encourage people to work, but that notion is not grounded in fact. As Western Center advocates and many other experts have pointed out on numerous occasions, hunger does not make anyone productive. The physical and psychological toll of hunger is not a catalyst for work — it has the opposite effect. And while the USDA claims the rule will incentivize employment, it simultaneously targets people with well-documented barriers to work by undermining state flexibility to offer exemptions and waivers to the rule.

The Trump administration has not produced evidence to support this rule change, and it has not done due diligence to prove it will have the effect it claims. The administration will also try to divert attention away from SNAP cuts by highlighting the SNAP Employment and Training program for people who are out of work or underemployed; this is dishonest because people cut from SNAP can’t benefit equally from these services, and the USDA has not funded the program to serve even half of those who need it.

This is a blatant and alarming attempt to undermine Congress and ignore the policy preference of a broad, bipartisan swath of Americans, all to implement a cruel rule with dubious intentions. The administration suggests the change will restore the “dignity of work,” but there is nothing dignified about going to a job interview hungry, and nothing about the experience of hunger makes someone more employable.

Though the rule was published today, it does not go into effect until spring 2020, and once efforts to prevent its implementation are exhausted. This means that for now, impacted individuals should continue using benefits as normal.

It’s clear that this rule and other attempts by the administration to cut SNAP benefits were created by people who have never experienced the indignity of hunger. The integrity of the United States rests on the fundamental question of whether a country as wealthy as ours should allow people to go hungry, and if doing so helps them or our democracy be better. We firmly believe the answer is no.

 

CONTACT:

Courtney McKinney, Director of Communications, [email protected]

Jessica Bartholow, Policy Advocate, [email protected]

Western Center Submits Comments Opposing Third Rule Change Proposal for SNAP Eligibility

The 60-day comment period has ended for the third set of proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the Trump Administration. This proposed change to the SNAP Standard Utility Allowance methodology could impact up to 25% of the SNAP caseload in California, reducing their benefit.

Below is an excerpt from the comments we submitted; full comments can be read here.

The Proposed Rule Will Increase Hunger and Cause Permanent Harm
We disagree with the Food and Nutrition Services’ (FNS’) proposal to establish standard amounts for SUAs, which would reduce SNAP benefits for 25 percent of participating California households or about 572,000 households, according to FNS’ own estimates. In total, nationwide, FNS estimates the SNAP program would be cut by $4.478 billion in the next five years. This drastic reduction in benefits would expose people who are living in poverty to more hunger, poorer health, fewer opportunities for economic mobility, and worst outcomes in the major determinants of a person’s well-being.

College students, seniors and immigrants miss out on food stamps. Here’s why.

A college student in Fresno who struggles with hunger has applied for food stamps three times. Another student, who is homeless in Sacramento, has applied twice. Each time, they were denied.

A 61-year-old in-home caretaker in Oakland was cut off from food stamps last year when her paperwork got lost. Out of work, she can’t afford groceries.

…”On a human level, what that means is that we continue to allow Californians to go without food,” said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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Colleges Should Not Have to Have Food Pantries

One of the first lessons Jalyn Wharton learned her freshman year at Kennesaw State University was how to stretch a pizza so it would feed her for a week. It wasn’t the only time she’d had to ration food. When she was in high school, her family became homeless and Wharton would sometimes eat less to make sure her younger siblings got enough. Even as her family bounced between hotels and friends’ houses, Wharton stayed focused on school. Everyone told her education was her path out of poverty. She finished high school with honors and was thrilled to get into Kennesaw State, a research institution with 35,000 students near Atlanta, Georgia.

…“We have been doing a better job of making sure low-income children feel like college is a place for them,” said Jessica Bartholow, of the Western Poverty Law Center in California. “Maybe so much so that it’s a real shock when they get here and find out that it isn’t.”

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PROPOSED FOOD STAMP ROLL-BACK TO AFFECT A QUARTER MILLION CALIFORNIANS

Roughly a quarter-million Californians might not qualify for food stamps under a new proposal by the Trump administration, opponents of the proposal said the move will affect families who already struggle financially.

…Jessica Bartholow is the lead Anti-Hunger Policy Advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, she said about 250,000 Californians will lose their Cal Fresh assistance.

“They will experience hunger,” Bartholow said. “The most recent proposal by the Trump administration would make the program more difficult to reach people who are working, people who have children in their household.”

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