We stand up for a Massachusetts where everyone gets a fair shot, does and pays their fair share, and plays by the same rules.
One million people are at risk of losing access to critical food assistance programs over the next year.
For decades, Republicans and Democrats have come together to support programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). We have the tools to end hunger; there is no reason why anyone in America should be struggling with it. There should not be smaller participation in programs like these because of a lack of funding, or any other type of error.
Congress recently decided to invoke a rule which limits unemployed adults aged 18-59 who aren’t disabled or raising children to three months of food assistance. They can continue to get food assistance if they get part time employment or find a job training program for at least 20 hours a week. Of course these job training programs are pretty rate.
So people who are searching for a job, and there are no job training programs available to them, still could lose access to food assistance after just three months.
Normally, this strict cut-off, part of the 1996 welfare reform law, is suspended in areas with high and sustained unemployment. During the most recent recession, this three month cut off was put on hold.
It is estimated that approximately 1 million SNAP recipients will have their benefits cut off due to the time limit in fiscal year 2016. And while the economy is improving and the national unemployment rate is falling slowly, the labor market remains weak, particularly for low-skilled, less-educated individuals such as those who face the three-month cut-off. People are not earning enough to make ends meet, which is how people end up on food assistance programs such as SNAP, even when they are employed. These waivers need to be lifted, so that those who are hungry can get the help they need.
You can see from this image that the Massachusetts average caseload (blue line) has dropped significantly below the average national caseload (orange line). Between October 2013 and October 2014 there was a 8.3 percent drop in food stamp participation in Massachusetts. This corresponds about 72,550 fewer participants in the SNAP program in Massachusetts.
However, this does not indicate an increase in food security, as there was actually an increase seen in the participation of food pantries and food banks. The Northampton Survival Center blames this on the implementation of modernization programs.
On a state level, the programs are not working. According to the Northampton Survival Center, recipients’ paperwork and verifications were being backlogged. The new centralized phone system also has several problems. It is difficult to get into contact with and speak to a live person, the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) phone system doesn’t allow for leaving messages, case records are lacking, and local offices do not have sufficient staffing. There are many people missing out on benefits they need because of administration errors. These can be fixed to better ensure that people are getting the food they need to survive.
We have the tools to end hunger. Lawmakers need to protect hunger programs and invest in job creation.
State Senator Mark Montigny and State Representative Jay Livingstone have stepped forward and filed a bill that addresses a range of health care, shelter, and nutrition issues. This bill would create a Common Application for SNAP and cash benefits with the MassHealth application and renewal process among other things, such as improve access to other nutrition benefits and address important health car and homeless shelter issues.
There is no reason that in the United States of America, anyone should be going hungry. We need decision makers at the state and federal level to work to make sure that our food assistance programs help those who need it.