*This piece was published in Sun This Week on December 19, 2019*
On April 1, 2020, 700,000 people will lose eligibility for food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as a result of a new rule change enacted by the USDA.
From The Open Door Executive Director Jason Viana:
The Department of Agriculture changed a rule in the administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that will result in more than 700,000 people losing a direct source of support in helping to put food on their tables.
In a press release announcing the rule change, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stated, “we need everyone who can work, to work.”
So, what does this rule change do to help people work? How does taking away an average of $118 in monthly food support help someone get a job?
The short answer? It doesn’t.
This rule change helps no one. This rule change does not increase workforce training. This rule change does not expand apprenticeship programs. This rule change does not help forge public private partnerships to prepare low-income workers for the skills-based jobs that are available. This rule change does nothing to improve the limited transportation options for low-income workers in Dakota county who do not have a reliable transportation system.
This rule change doesn’t help small businesses either. 76% of SNAP retailers are small business, and the conservative estimates show the average small business losing $3,300 a month in revenue. With so many of our low-income communities both in the suburbs and rural Minnesota are struggling to keep their small grocery stores and retail shops, this policy will only make things worse.
In truth, all this rule change has done is take away the ability for individual states to effectively make decisions based on local information. Currently 36 states, a bipartisan mix, benefit from waivers that allow them to selectively extend benefits where they are most needed using information that goes deeper than a single economic indicator.
For example, In Dakota County the unemployment rate is less than 3%, below both the National and Minnesota averages. A closer look at the 2018 Dakota County Health Assessment reveals that the rate does not apply equally across our community. If you live below the poverty line the unemployment rate is 20%. If you are African American, the unemployment rate is 9%. If you have not completed high school, the rate is more than double the county average. This change eliminates a State’s ability to factor in these details and request that support be extended where needed.
This rule change additionally places greater pressure on an already stressed emergency food system in Dakota County. Since The Open Door began 10 years ago, we have worked diligently to make fresh and healthy food available to everyone in our community who needs it. We have grown from a closet in a church to the largest food shelf in Dakota County, feeding more than 7,000 of our neighbors each month.
I often remind people that as we have grown, we have not put any other food shelves out of business, rather we work alongside our hunger-relief partners to focus on the unmet needs. We launched our Mobile Food Programs and Community Gardens as innovative ways to make food available where it wasn’t before, and while we have made tremendous progress there is still a waiting list of senior living facilities, schools, and isolated neighborhoods who need support. This rule change only serves to make that list longer and create a bigger gap of those who need help and aren’t receiving it.
This rule change is only the first of three proposed changes this year that will impact 3 million people already struggling to make ends meet. Please join me in voicing your concerns to your elected representatives, and by actively supporting local hunger relief efforts. Our neighbors in need will be directly affected by this rule change and we at The Open Door need your help to ensure we are prepared to respond.