April 2018 U.S. Poverty Action

April 3, 2018

Write Lawmakers about the Importance of Food Assistance for Communities of Color

In April, RESULTS is highlighting the importance of addressing systemic forms of oppression, including how we engage with people in our outreach and in our advocacy work with policymakers – tune into our April U.S. Poverty National webinar for more. One of the glaring signs of systemic oppression in the U.S. is the disproportional higher levels of poverty in communities of color. The poverty rate for African Americans, Hispanics, and Native populations, for example, was 2-3 times higher than the poverty rate for whites in 2016 (US Census). Sadly, these discrepancies are rooted in our country’s history of racism and perpetuated by modern day discriminatory practices and policies.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), helps alleviate some of the hardship these communities experience. Sadly, some lawmakers in Congress want to make harmful changes to SNAP, making it harder for Americans facing hunger to get help with putting food on the table. Write letters to Congress telling them to oppose any efforts to cut or change SNAP that would lead to greater hunger in the U.S.

Talking Points for Letters/Calls/Meetings to Protect SNAP

Here are some talking points you can tailor for letters, calls with Congressional aides, or face-to-face meetings.

  1. Introduce yourself with your name and city. SNAP Lifted Millions of African Americans Out of Poverty and Also note that you are a RESULTS volunteer writing about the impact of hunger on communities of color.
  2. Share why this issue is important to you, enough for you to take time out of your busy schedule to write about it.
  3. Explain that in 2016 African Americans were food insecure (22.5 percent) 2.5 times higher than whites (9.3 percent), and Hispanics were twice as likely to be food insecure (18.5 percent) as whites. One in four Native persons is living food insecure.
  4. Note that in that same year, SNAP (formerly, Food Stamps) helped 13 million African Americans and 10 million Hispanics put food on the table each month. If you have time, share a story or data about how important SNAP is to your own family or your community.
  5. SNAP Lifted Millions of Latinos Out of Poverty and Tell them that despite its effectiveness, the proposed House bill imposes stricter guidelines on “categorical eligibility,” which many states use to decide who can access SNAP — this will make the “cliff effect” worse, penalizing families for earning more.
  6. House leaders want to impose harsh work requirements on SNAP benefits for those looking for work, families with children, and older Americans. This will hit communities of color the hardest; African American, Hispanic, and Native households are more likely to face long-term unemployment than white households.
  7. Overall, the proposed House bill would mean approximately 2 million Americans lose access to basic food assistance.
  8. Inform that even worse than perpetuating myths about SNAP and work (the majority of SNAP recipients who can work already do), these policies reinforce racist stereotypes that have continually denied communities of color full participation in the American economy.
  9. Ask they will please tell House and Senate leaders, including the respective Agriculture Committee members, that you will oppose any Farm Bill that cuts or makes harmful changes to food assistance.

Why We Must Speak Up Now: Food Assistance for Millions at Stake

April is a key month, with the House Farm Bill slated for markup on April 18 while key senators are writing their own bill. House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway (R-TX-11) abandoned efforts for a bipartisan Farm Bill and is pursuing a bill that could take food away from millions who are at risk of hunger. Harmful cuts and changes to SNAP jeopardize the historically bipartisan nature of the Farm Bill and make it harder for working families – including people of color and persons with disabilities – to put food on the table. Some of the potential changes in the House Farm Bill include:

Making SNAP’s harsh work requirements worse. Under current law, SNAP participants between the ages of 18 to 49 who are not raising minor children may not receive benefits for more than three months out of every three years, unless they are working or in a work training program for at least 20 hours a week. States can request waivers to exempt people from the time limit, such as those in areas with high unemployment or face other high barriers to employment. The House Farm Bill could expand this time limit by raising the maximum age from 49 to 59, increase work hour requirements, reduce the time childless adults can receive benefits, and impose new work requirements on parents of children over 6. Most SNAP recipients who can work do so, but they are often in low-paying jobs with irregular hours and low wages that make it hard to make ends meet.

Limiting categorical eligibility – exacerbating the “cliff effect” and punishing those who save. More than 40 states use a state option known as “categorical eligibility,” which allows them to adjust income cutoffs and asset limits so that working families don’t abruptly lose SNAP benefits when they earn slightly more money. This reduces the “cliff effect”, which many of RESULTS Experts on Poverty and policymakers have highlighted as a key problem. This means that restricting or eliminating categorical eligibility would punish people who are trying to move above the poverty line by working more hours or getting a better-paying job. Eliminating state flexibility to adjust SNAP asset limits also creates a disincentive to save, making it harder for SNAP recipients to save money for that unexpected bill or illness. It would also make racial wealth inequality even worse.

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