SNAP is the nation’s – and our state’s – most important and effective anti-hunger program. It has grown when Arkansans needed it to, most recently when the pandemic and its economic crisis were at their worst. In Fiscal 2021, about 1 in 9 Arkansas residents (346,200) were helped by SNAP. Almost 74% of Arkansas SNAP participants were in families with children. Almost 41% were in families with older adults or a person with a disability. More than 42% were in working families. About half of participants had incomes at or below the poverty line.
SNAP Priorities for the Farm Bill
The Farm Bill was originally enacted in the 1930s. The most recent version was signed in 2018, and it is set to expire in 2023. A critical component of the Farm Bill is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
There are, however, several aspects to SNAP policy that are particularly burdensome to Arkansans. We are hopeful that, as the federal government considers changes to the SNAP program, they will work to:
- Ensure that Compact of Free Association (COFA) migrants can become eligible for SNAP benefits. COFA migrants, including the Marshallese here in Arkansas, are barred from SNAP eligibility, even though they’re lawfully residing in the United States. COFA migrants have a unique immigration status as a result of longstanding treaties with the United States. But unlike most other lawfully residing immigrants, they weren’t allowed access to SNAP because of an oversight in federal law. This exacerbates hunger in the Marshallese community, a population that already is more likely to experience food insecurity. In fact, a recent study from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences found that among 67 pregnant Marshallese women who were surveyed, 84 percent reported being food insecure. This is a simple fix in SNAP law and would be similar to the change in health policy in 2020 that allowed COFA migrants to become eligible for Medicaid.
- Eliminate or greatly increase the SNAP asset limit. States have flexibility to remove or eliminate the asset limit, and most have. Arkansas has not. We’re one of only nine states that have kept SNAP’s overly restrictive asset limit, making it harder for Arkansans with low-paying jobs to save for emergencies while also keeping SNAP benefits. The federal asset limit hasn’t kept up with inflation since it was established in the late 1970s. If it had, it would be more than $8,000 in 2022, as opposed to $2,500 for most families. Ensuring that families can establish and build savings means that they are more stable financially and less likely to need to receive benefits in the future. This just makes sense and should be a priority to help hard working Arkansans be more financially secure.
- Protect changes made to the Thrifty Food Plan. The USDA recently revised the Plan based on a Congressional directive from the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill to better reflect current dietary guidance and how families with incomes below the poverty line shop for and prepare meals. The revised Thrifty Food Plan resulted in a modest but meaningful increase to SNAP benefits that will reduce poverty, decrease food insecurity, improve health outcomes for children, and improve access to healthy foods – all at a time when food prices have far outpaced overall inflation. Without the Thrifty Food Plan update, average SNAP benefits would have been about $4.25 per person per day. Under the revision, the average SNAP benefit is now $5.45, a modest but significant $1.20 per-day increase.
SNAP and the Workforce
Most SNAP participants who can work, do so. Among SNAP households with children and at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, three-quarters work while receiving SNAP. And almost 90% worked in the year prior to, or the year after, receiving SNAP. This data reflects that joblessness is often a temporary condition for SNAP participants.
Many SNAP participants are essential frontline workers. The jobs most common among SNAP participants include jobs like cashiers, cooks, or home health aides. These jobs typically pay low wages, have schedules that change frequently with little input from the worker, and don’t offer benefits like paid sick leave. SNAP benefits supplement low wages to help workers better afford food, and can help workers if they lose a job, providing the support they need to find work again. Prior to the pandemic (in 2017), in Arkansas, these were the most commons jobs for working Arkansans participating in SNAP:
- 6,900 cashiers – about 1 in 4 – participated in SNAP while working.
- 6,800 nursing, psychiatric and home health aides – about 1 in 3 – participated in SNAP while working.
- 5,500 cooks – about 1 in 4 – participated in SNAP while working.
- 3,800 hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers – about 1 in 5 – participated in SNAP while working.