U-M report: new work requirements for food assistance impact organizations in Washtenaw County
A new report released by the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Washtenaw County organization Food Gatherers demonstrates the local impact of work requirements for those receiving food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.
When work requirements were reinstated, researchers found that:
1 in 6 organizations providing hunger relief saw an increase in clients who recently lost SNAP benefits. Among organizations that saw an increase in clients due to the loss of SNAP, more than 50% saw a noticeable increase in individuals asking to volunteer – one way people can meet SNAP work requirements – and more than 25% noted that food ran out more quickly.
Organizations that offered wrap around services (such as offering food assistance alongside housing and healthcare referrals or services) saw a marked increase in clients. This is likely tied to more people in Washtenaw County facing food insecurity. Compared to individuals who are food secure, people in this study who were experiencing food insecurity faced 9 times as many tradeoffs – such as deciding to buy food or pay transportation costs or utility bills.
Double Up Food Bucks redemptions in Washtenaw farmers markets dropped. Double Up was developed by Fair Food Network to match the value of SNAP spent on fresh fruit and vegetables in over 250 participating farmers markets and grocery stores across Michigan and now in 26 other states.
In January 2017, the State of Michigan was required to roll out work requirements in the four counties with low unemployment – including Washtenaw County – and made plans to phase in the policy statewide by October 2018. The report measures the burden of SNAP cuts between January 2017 and April 2018 on poverty alleviation institutions in Washtenaw County, such as community groups that provide food and housing assistance, government offices tasked with implementing the policy change, and private-public partnerships with farmer’s markets that leverage SNAP dollars.
The impacts on local organizations were felt in spite of the fact that fewer people lost their SNAP benefits than was expected, which researchers attribute to the proactive outreach by the Washtenaw County Department of Health and Human Services and Food Gatherers.
“Many institutions still saw a noticeable impact on their operations, despite these lower numbers of people losing their SNAP benefits, and this is in a county that likely has more poverty alleviation support services than other counties in Michigan where the population that will be affected by the SNAP work requirement will be much higher,” says Lesli Hoey, one of the lead researchers from the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. “Other research has found that most individuals who go on and off SNAP find work even when time limits are not in effect. It raises the question: should our state and non-profit resources be used to implement administrative changes such as work requirements or to offer poverty alleviation services?”
“Food Banks and food pantries work hard to ensure that all of our neighbors have access to food. When individuals struggle to find employment and lose their benefits, they turn to their neighborhood food pantry to make ends meet,” says Markell Miller, director of Community Food Programs at Food Gatherers and the other lead researcher for the project. “Our neighbors need food to find work and keep work. SNAP helps people make ends meet, even during temporary unemployment, and it is critical that the federal Farm Bill not make the work requirements more strict or harsh.”