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Zeta Healthy Aging Partnership member Ella Scovens, 79, reacts to proposed SNAP benefit restrictions during an press conference in Baltimore.
Zeta Healthy Aging Partnership member Ella Scovens, 79, reacts to proposed SNAP benefit restrictions during an press conference in Baltimore. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as the Food Supplement Program in Maryland, serves as the first line of defense against hunger for approximately 610,000 Marylanders. Most recipients live in households with children, seniors and people with disabilities. Most SNAP recipients who can work are working; they are simply not earning enough to make ends meet.

Over the last year, the Trump administration has proposed several harmful changes to SNAP. In spring 2019, the administration proposed a rule that, regardless of the lack of jobs in an area, would time limit SNAP benefits for people not living with children who can’t document sufficient weekly work hours; these people would lose SNAP eligibility after three months. Take Mr. J., a janitor at Camden Yards, for example. I met Mr. J. at the Franciscan Center, an emergency resource center in Baltimore City, where he was eating lunch and picking up a bag of groceries from the center’s food pantry. Mr. J. only works during baseball season when the Orioles have home games, which often puts him at 16-18 hours per week on average, falling just short of the 20 hours per week he needs to maintain his SNAP benefits. Mr. J. is looking for a second job, but he is having difficulty finding one due to prior incarceration. If this rule were to be enacted, Mr. J., and potentially thousands of others in Baltimore and across the state, would be scrambling to find jobs that are out of reach due to various factors, including a lack of transportation.

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Here’s another example: Mr. P., an older adult who lives with his wife in a senior community in Montgomery County, recently underwent surgery that left the couple with high medical bills they have been struggling to pay off. Medical costs can deplete family resources and send people spiraling into both debt and food insecurity. Thankfully, Mrs. P and Mr. P. applied and qualified for SNAP, and as a result they don’t have to choose between food and medicine. The couple had heard about another recent proposed SNAP rule and believed that they wouldn’t qualify for the program. I was glad to be able to help them get the food assistance they needed during a difficult time.

If enacted, this SNAP proposal to limit states’ ability to set income and resource eligibility requirements to account for high living costs, such as shelter and child care, would take away SNAP benefits from more than 3 million people nationwide, including an estimated 50,000 Maryland residents. In addition, it would cut nearly 1 million children off from the free school meals they currently receive. Children who live in households that receive SNAP benefits are automatically eligible to receive free school breakfast and lunch. If this rule is enacted, children will be hungry at home and school. Since childhood hunger is linked to academic struggles, and difficulty focusing and concentrating, many schools would struggle to meet the educational, health and mental health needs of the students who lose SNAP benefits and as a result, access to free school meals.

I often wonder, if those in power created these proposals with the actual people who would be impacted in mind, would they be different? More humane, more focused on helping those in need, instead of punishing those with less? Based on what I see every day, I would sure like to think so.

J.D. Robinson (jdrobinson@mdhungersolutions.org) is an anti-hunger program assistant at Maryland Hunger Solutions. In this role, he conducts SNAP outreach and assists people in determining if they are eligible for the program.

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