Protecting the Safety Net

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PUP is leading the Save Our Safety Net Campaign in Pennsylvania.   The Safety Net, created to protect the most needy and vulnerable Americans, especially during tough times, has been slowly eroded over the past 30 years.  Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, or more recently the  Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, have come under attack in Congress.  Meanwhile, Congress just passed a $2 Trillion dollar tax cut that saw the benefits go overwhelmingly to the rich and large corporations.  Now, in an effort to pay for this tax giveaway, Safety Net programs are again on the chopping block. 

One such program is SNAP.  Long one of the country’s most successful anti-poverty programs, it’s now on the chopping block with proposed funding cuts and radical reforms that will force millions off the program and will exacerbate hunger and poverty in America. 

Under  proposed changes to SNAP eligibility rules, low-income families with children would be hurt. Currently, Pennsylvania’s low-income working families who face high housing, child care, or utility costs remain eligible for SNAP as their gross income inches up to 160% of the poverty line ($32,676 annually for a family of three). With each pay increase, their SNAP benefits gradually decrease as their earnings cover a greater share of food costs until they phase out of the program. The bill would lower Pennsylvania’s eligibility limit to 130 percent of poverty ($26,600 annually for a family of three). In other words, a family would lose SNAP benefits sooner, creating a benefits cliff, and leaving their overall budget even worse off than when they had a lower income. Doing so is like taking rungs off the ladder as families are trying to climb to stability. 

The bill also expands SNAP’s already strict work requirements. Currently, SNAP recipients ages 18-49 without dependents must work at least 20 hours per week or participate in a employment and training program, unless they live in an area with high unemployment. Under this Bill, these work requirements would expand to include people 50-59 years old, as well as include parents of children age six and over.

Finally, unemployed SNAP recipients would have 30 days to find a job or enter an employment training program – or lose their SNAP benefits. It often takes longer than one month to find and start a job. SNAP currently requires able-bodied adults up to age 49 to be in work, training or education within three months or they lose their benefits.

SNAP’s purpose has always been to provide basic food assistance to Americans in crisis, and those doing their best who cannot make ends meet. With its severe cuts and changes, the current draft of the Farm Bill will help fewer people – and will make worse the problem of hunger right here in Pennsylvania. 

While SNAP is first on the chopping block, we fully expect other safety net programs to come under attack, including CHIP, Medicaid and Medicare and even social security.   

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