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SNAP changes could mean thousands of Coloradans lose benefits 

Food fears

click to enlarge Care and Share has increased capacity but can’t make up for large cuts to SNAP. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Care and Share has increased capacity but can’t make up for large cuts to SNAP.
Colorado’s Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps, just got a boost — though it could prove short-lived.

As of June 1, people at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or FPL, can receive SNAP benefits in Colorado. That means four-person households making less than $50,200 can be eligible. Before this June, Colorado’s SNAP program only served people at 130 percent of the FPL, or $32,630 for a family of four.

The regulation change could make SNAP benefits available for thousands more households in Colorado by next year, according to projections provided by Nourie Boraie, state Department of Human Services spokesperson. With current caps, SNAP participation was expected to decline, but under the new rule the department expects to serve an added 2,000 households next year, and 14,000 households by 2022. (Last year, the state handled 223,000 “cases,” which can be individuals, families or households.)

But changes at the federal level could soon reverse that trend, on a much larger scale.

On June 21, the House approved its version of the farm bill, a package passed every five years that dictates agriculture subsidies, food safety, trade and more. The bill includes changes to SNAP that, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate, would cause 1.2 million people to lose benefits by 2028.

Sixty-two percent of those people would be adults living in households with children (not including those caring for children younger than 6). On average, that category of households would lose $1,816 in annual benefits by 2028, according to the estimate.

The changes are concerning for the state’s SNAP recipients, says Ellie Agar, interim director of communications for statewide nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado.

“If [the House bill] were enacted,” Agar says, “it would actually end or reduce benefits and impact probably tens of thousands of Coloradans who are using federal nutrition programs and already on a tight budget, and particularly older adults and families with children.”

The House bill does include changes that will increase benefits for some people, but “the net effect of all these provisions on SNAP benefits would still be a significant cut overall, and a substantial number of people would lose their SNAP benefits altogether,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ analysis states. That’s because of the bill’s new work requirement: Adults between the ages of 18 and 59 — except pregnant women, caretakers of small children and people with mental and physical disabilities — would have to prove they spend 20 or more hours a week at a job, in a work program or in SNAP Employment and Training.

While many SNAP recipients already work, the requirement would particularly affect people who don’t receive disability benefits but have a work-limiting condition, as well as parents of children older than 6, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says. And the Congressional Budget Office says states’ employment and training programs don’t have the resources to accommodate the number of people who’d need to be enrolled in courses in order to keep their benefits.

The changes won’t necessarily become law, because the Senate’s version of the farm bill, which passed easily June 28, doesn’t include new work requirements. Instead, the bipartisan bill includes changes to benefit elderly and disabled adults, and increases funding availability for employment and training. Legislators will have to reconcile the widely differing bills in conference this fall.

“We’re very happy with the current Senate farm bill,” Agar says. “It was bipartisan and it really, it balanced the needs of producers and consumers as well as nutrition programs like the food stamp program, whereas the House farm bill is of greater concern, because it actually would make more hurdles for Coloradans who are seeking employment and create a lot more hardship within the food stamp program.”

The House bill is anything but bipartisan: All Democrats voted against it. They were joined by 20 Republicans, but the bill still passed by a margin of two votes.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, of Colorado, is hopeful that Democrats can persuade Republicans in the House to do away with the work requirement.

“We did some work on reform of the [SNAP] programs in the Senate bill, and that brought almost 90 Democrats and Republicans together in the Senate,” he remarked after the Senate’s bill passed by a vote of 86-11. “There’s more work to do I’m sure, but I hope we’ll do something along the lines of what we passed.”

All four Republican representatives from Colorado voted for the House bill. District 3 Rep. Scott Tipton says the work requirement would ultimately help hungry Americans.

“Today, SNAP traps too many American families in a cycle of poverty,” Tipton said in a June 21 statement. “These changes to the program will help reverse the alarming trends we have seen in SNAP and give people the tools and resources they need to create a better life for themselves and their families.”

President Donald Trump is expected to veto any farm bill that doesn’t strengthen work requirements, according to news reports.

Colorado Springs residents apply through the El Paso County Department of Human Services for federal SNAP benefits. As of May, this year’s average monthly clients numbered over 65,000 people. Over 26,000 SNAP clients were under 18, according to county spokesperson Kristina Iodice.

Not everyone who’s hungry is eligible to receive SNAP benefits, and food banks are often a first line of defense. Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado is the only food bank in the lower half of the state, and works with almost 300 organizations and food pantries across the region. Last year, they served 143,000 people, says president and CEO Lynne Telford.

Care and Share also works closely with the county to help people apply for SNAP benefits. Telford says volunteers and staff at food distribution areas helped 900 households through the complicated application process last year.

“It’s easier for them [to apply] if you’re already going to a food pantry and we say, ‘Have you checked to see if you’re eligible for SNAP benefits?’” Telford says. “Many people say, ‘Oh, I haven’t done that.’”

Karen Logan, the county’s employment and family support services director, says it’s hard to say what will happen locally if Congress approves the changes to SNAP. For one, she says, “there’s quite a bit of a lag time between the time something gets passed and the time it actually implements.”

She says collaborating with organizations such as Care and Share will become all the more important if people lose access to food. “El Paso County is rich with resources, and we work very closely with our partners, because we’re all invested in making sure that families and kids and the elderly are all fed appropriately.”

Telford says Care and Share couldn’t help all the people who would lose benefits if the House version passes, at least not right away — despite the food bank’s steady growth over the past five years and massive volunteer network.

In the face of cuts to SNAP benefits, Care and Share would just keep working to feed as many people as possible, Telford says.

“At the end of the day, our focus is just to get our hands on more food,” she says. “Through food drives, through rescue food, through the efforts through the grocery stores... We’re never just like, ‘Oh, we don’t need it.’ We’re always trying to get more food ultimately to get out, and no change at any level of government I think would change our standard operating around that.”

People in need of assistance with SNAP applications can call 434-5723 or email snap@careandshare.org.

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