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SNAP and Thrifty Food Plans: Catholic Charities New York Speaks to USDA on Behalf of the People

Annie Kibrick Catholic Charities Community Services
Anne Kibrick, Catholic Charities Community Services // Photo Catholic Charities New York

Anne Kibrick of Catholic Charities Community Services provides expert opinion to The US Department of Agriculture on food insecurity.

By Jim Sliney Jr

WASHINGTON, DC: Anne Kibrick, SNAP Outreach Coordinator for Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS), part of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, spoke at a recent United States Department of Agriculture meeting regarding the role food insecurity plays in the lives of those receiving supplemental benefits. 

The USDA has 29 agencies with over 100,000 employees and they provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development and nutrition. But did you know they also make key decisions on what a nutritious diet is and how much it would cost? It’s something called the Thrifty Food Plan and it determines how far Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits go. In that sense, they may have a say in how much food your family can afford.

In early May, the USDA, in response to President Biden’s Covid-19 economic relief executive order, held a series of “listening sessions” about the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Several community organizations were invited including Catholic Charities of New York. The goal was to review and update the TFP and SNAP to make ensure the programs are current and effective.

MIXED-STATUS FAMILIES

According to the National Immigration Law Center A “mixed-status family” is a family whose members include people with different citizenship or immigration statuses. For example, the parents are undocumented and the children are U.S.-born citizens.

CCCS serves many mixed-status immigrant families. In such families, only the U.S. citizens and certain household members who meet very specific legal status requirements qualify for SNAP benefits. At the USDA session Anne Kibrick declared that, “SNAP benefit amounts issued to mixed-status immigrant families do not meet their household budget needs,” and that even with maximum SNAP benefits, “and access to local food pantries, many mixed-status families cannot provide a 'minimal cost' nutrition diet."

Kibrick noted that under normal conditions, children would be receiving no-cost food through and at their schools. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, children were instead learning from home. This passed greater food burden onto families.

SOLUTIONS

A possible solution proposed by CCCS is to extend SNAP benefits to undocumented people, in particular undocumented minors who already qualify for Medicaid in NYS, and to immigrant groups that can prove local residency. Another barrier to accessible SNAP includes the five-year wait period for legal permanent residents to become eligible. These limitations affect the Latino community especially, who also experienced greater than average harm from Covid-19.

Solving this “would be a giant step,” Kibrick added, “towards reducing racial inequities and health disparities for the Latino immigrant community.”

VARIATIONS IN COST OF LIVING

Another issue brought to the discussion by Kibrick was the one-size-fits-all nationwide eligibility for SNAP.  She stated that New Yorkers often report incomes that are ‘too high’ to make them ineligible for SNAP. Yet despite this, that income doesn’t allow them to obtain a “minimal cost nutritious diet.” “Scaling SNAP income requirements and benefit amounts,” asserted Kibrick, “by population density, Area Median Income, state or region would help ensure that the Thrifty Food Plan meets the needs of those seeking assistance.”

Kibrick proposed taking into consideration factors such as costs for shelter and out-of-pocket medical expenses when calculating eligibility, and that doing so would “expand access to many of our clients who are denied benefits yet struggle to afford food for their families.”

HIGH COST OF SPECIAL DIETARY FOODS

Another point made on behalf of CCCS came from lessons learned during the Feeding Our Neighbors program during the Covid-19 pandemic. Namely, that seniors or people with disability often use their SNAP benefits to purchase more expensive foods to meet their specific dietary needs. They may also have to spend on essential supplemental items like hygiene products, diapers, cleaning supplies, etc., but the monthly SNAP allotment doesn’t take factor those higher costs into their metrics. If it is the TFP that determines the maximum benefit for SNAP, then the TFP would need to take the higher cost of such essential items into consideration.

WHAT OTHERS COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS TOLD THE USDA

Other invited stakeholders from across the country addressed how out of date the Thrifty Food Plan is. They also discussed cultural issues that should be considered, specific barriers faced by seniors, practical examples of how SNAP is being used by people, and how the program held up (or didn’t) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone agreed that the current maximum SNAP benefit is insufficient to combat food insecurity.

The “S” in SNAP stands for “Supplemental”, but Kibrick asserts that those benefits “are vital” to those receiving them.

Kibrick closed her comments at the USDA by saying, “This past year reinforced for me and my colleagues how vital the SNAP program is for so many in our community. One immigrant mother of three U.S. citizen children recently told me that SNAP was the only source of income she had for many months when she lost her housekeeping job as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. So many clients call me after noticing even the slightest decrease in their benefit amounts since they rely on every dollar. I am heartened to know SNAP benefits may be extended to more individuals and families facing food insecurity in our communities.”

Catholic Charities of New York has played a big role in providing New Yorkers with the food they need before, during, and (God willing and with the grace of its supporters) after the Covid-19 pandemic. This USDA event is an encouraging sign that policy makers are listening.