Testimony to DC Council about SNAP | Rachel Metz
Even before the pandemic, SNAP filled a major need in DC, particularly for children. In fiscal year 2019, 94,000 District residents participated in SNAP, which is about 13 percent of the District’s population.28 Of those 94,000 participants, 37,000 - just over one-third - were children under age 18 (with about one-third of those children age four and under).29 That means that more than one in four of the District’s children receive SNAP30.
In DC, SNAP is one tool among many to help counter the effects of historic and ongoing racial inequity. SNAP is one of the core nutrition and income support programs that reaches the most children and families and its value is well-documented. Even with its modest food benefit, at about $1.40 per person per meal,9 SNAP reduces food insecurity, improves school performance and children’s health, and improves long-term outcomes for participants (see our SNAP introduction document for more details). Because of the ongoing impact of institutional racism, Black children in DC are 10 times as likely as white children to be living in poverty (36 vs. 3 percent), making SNAP a vital program for making sure children - particularly those in historically underserved communities - don’t go to bed hungry.31 As a result of to the intersection of racism and socioeconomic status, 93 percent of the people enrolled in SNAP in DC are Black32. However, while Latino families also face many hurdles to reaching economic stability, only 2.5 percent of SNAP recipients in DC are Latino, even though Latinos make up 11% of DC residents, suggesting that there may be barriers to Latino families participating.
Food security is increasing to a level unprecedented in the modern United States. Nationally, by the end of April 2020 two in five households with mothers with children 12 and under were food insecure. There has been significant federal and District assistance to support families during this crisis. We thank the DC Council and Mayor Bowser for the commitment to meeting this clear need. Moving forward, we ask the Council to prioritize maintaining level funding for ongoing food and nutrition support for families. Specifically:
- Once DHS is able to resume the recertification process for SNAP and other public benefits, phase in that requirement to avoid posing administrative hurdles for families in need.
- Continue to offer, and improve, the online SNAP application DHS launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and consider other policies that could better equip the agency for the next crisis and increase accessibility.
Prior to launching an online application during the pandemic, to apply for SNAP residents had to print an application online and then either take the signed application to a DHS service center or mail the application to an ESA Service center. Both of these options required households to take additional steps in order to apply for essential food assistance. The District was only one of four states that did not have an online application for SNAP benefits.34 In addition to keeping the online application, DHS could go further by making it a more user friendly dynamic form rather than a static PDF version of the printed application. In addition, DHS could consider other policies that both improve accessibility and leave it more options in crisis situations. For example, on-demand interviews41, mobile accessibility,42 and online case management43 would reduce how much households need to come into the office and free up caseworkers in the office to handle more complicated matters. This could be one element of the proposed study on food access in the most recent proposed COVID-19 emergency legislation if that passes.
- Ensure that applicants qualify for all deductions for which they are eligible.
That calculation estimates how much money households have available to purchase food and therefore how much money in SNAP benefits they’re entitled to. Analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities of 2018 SNAP Quality Control Characteristics data showed that nationally only a fraction of SNAP households claimed deductions. Only 3% claim the dependent care (i.e. child care) deduction.44 With the high cost of child care in the District, it is important to make sure that families on SNAP are able to count their out-of-pocket dependent care costs during the SNAP eligibility determination.
- Work with other state agencies, including the Department of Health, Office of the State Superintendent of Education, and the State Board of Education to connect families to the suite of benefits for which they may be eligible.
For example, some state SNAP agencies have partnered with local WIC agencies to find infants and children who are enrolled in only one program to connect those families to both benefits. This makes it easier on the applicant household but also on the state agency because they can use much of the information already verified from the other program to make a decision. The low-income families in the District who have completed the application and eligibility process for one safety-net program, especially SNAP—which has a comprehensive application and eligibility process--should be provided with more direct avenues to other safety net programs (not just the ones administered by DHS) they may be eligible for without having to complete the entire application process and provide the same verifications multiple times. The District could incorporate these linkages and partnerships into its work to develop an Early Childhood Integrated Data System (ECIDS).