Risk of deepening hunger crisis as SNAP exemption expires
Share Now on:
When Joseph Baker applied for SNAP benefits in the chaos of early April, he was surprised how quickly he got approved.
“When I applied they were like, well you qualify for emergency assistance, we’re going to have the card to you in 5 day. And I’m like, ‘oh! Ok! That’s great!” he said. He had been scared to death, when he first lost his job as a firearms instructor and pawnbroker, wondering how he was going to keep paying all his bills and feeding his two kids. But within days, Baker said, the state of Florida sent him an EBT card, “and I was able to immediately put fresh fruit and vegetables in the house.”
At the time, the federal government had just made it easier for states to approve people for SNAP benefits, by waiving the interview requirement and by allowing states to push out the recertification process for families whose benefits were about to expire so they could concentrate on processing new applications.
“That allowed us to manage our spike in caseload,” said Duke Storen, commissioner of the Department of Social Services in Virginia, which saw applications for SNAP triple in the first few weeks of the pandemic.
“If you look across that time period of the really big spikes in application, we maintained our timely processing of applications, we didn’t lose a step. Had we had to do all those interviews and all those renewals, we never would have been able to keep up.”
But that flexibility is ending later this month. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has told states that as of Sept. 1, they will no longer be able to waive the interview for all new SNAP applicants, and they will also have to start processing recertifications. That has state officials and anti-hunger organizations around the country concerned that people may end up experiencing long delays in getting their benefits.
“I’m most worried that the average time to process the applications will increase significantly, and people will go hungry while they’re waiting for their application to be approved,” Storen said. “We are going to see a tremendous spike in our work come September, almost twice the amount of our normal workload.”
With the waivers expiring, Virginia will have to start working its way through the 151,000 recertifications it has deferred since the pandemic began. On top of that, there is likely to be another big spike in demand for SNAP now that Congress has let federal unemployment benefits expire.
“Every single state is facing this exact challenge,” Storen said. “We are all asking USDA for an extension of the existing waivers and they’re just not willing to budge.”
States that can demonstrate that their SNAP caseload is at least 50% higher than last year will be able to apply to USDA to waive the interview for up to half of SNAP applications. According to Kate Leone, the chief governmental relations officer at Feeding America, that will likely not be enough to help states keep up this fall.
“With case loads increasing at the rate we know they are, this is really going to be a lot for states to take on, during a time when they’re taking on enrolling people in the program for the first time, and dealing with social distancing and all the other burdens that are coming on state programs right now,” she said.
Already, food banks in some parts of the country are starting to see an increase in the number of people coming in again, now that the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits has expired.
“This desperation is really starting to set in in our community. We’re seeing that just how long we’ve been sustaining the economic impacts is really stretching families and seniors, families with children, to that breaking point,” said Theresa McCormick, director of programs at Second Harvest Heartland food bank in Minnesota.
If the USDA lets the interview and recertification waivers expire, as planned, at the end of August, she is concerned that people are going to start having to wait a long time for SNAP.
“That, for us, is a very concerning place as a food bank, because SNAP is so efficient — putting nine meals into the community for every one the food bank can provide,” McCormick said. “Charity and food banks alone will not be able to rise to that level of response needed for the hunger crisis that’s happening in our country right now.”
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?
This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.
Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?
India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.
Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?
As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.
We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.
Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.
In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.
Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.
Donate now to get almost any thank-you gift.