GBPI Letter Urges Governor, State Leaders to Remove Barriers to SNAP During Pandemic

Dear Governor Kemp,

It is commendable that Georgia is taking proactive and necessary steps to fight the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and it is imperative that the state consider support for families with tight budgets and few savings who will face great financial strain. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, helps shield families with low incomes from food insecurity during emergencies that impact earnings. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) insists that states take advantage of flexibilities to ensure the continuity of, and safe access to, SNAP during pandemic conditions of social distancing. In this vein, we urge the administration to take the following immediate steps:

Governor Kemp, DHS Commissioner Crittenden, DFCS Director Rawlings and members of the Georgia General Assembly should swiftly adopt policies to protect people who face food insecurity during this time.

More than one-third (34 percent) of Georgia’s workforce includes retail cashiers, fast food workers and wait staff and administrative support professionals.[1] In addition to being Georgia’s top three most common occupations, workers in these occupations have less access to paid leave, struggle with inconsistent hours, are among the lowest paid in the state and are at greater risk of being displaced from work during the pandemic.[2] These individuals supplement low wages and loss of work opportunities with the help of the safety net, especially SNAP.

Georgia can take the following steps to help families with low incomes maintain food assistance and mitigate the major economic stress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic:

Halt Statewide ABAWD Work Requirement Implementation

 

Using existing authority, we urge Governor Kemp to request from USDA the Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) work requirement exemption waivers for all eligible Georgia counties. State waivers provide key protections to participants in Georgia communities where employment opportunities are limited. Without the time-limit waivers in place, thousands of Georgians abruptly lose food assistance when the three-month period ends. Expecting Georgians to find a job or training program in three months or less during the pandemic goes against state leadership’s call to adhere to CDC recommendations during this time.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Governor’s Office and the Department of Human Services made plans to enforce the time limit in all Georgia counties beginning May 1, 2020. Given the inevitable impact the virus will have on our labor market, especially in non-metro Atlanta areas, we must ask the administration to delay this full expansion of the work requirement and seek waivers for these areas.

On March 13, 2020, a federal judge halted a USDA regulatory change that would limit state ability to seek waivers in times such as this. The judge in the case cited concerns from the spread of coronavirus.[3] This injunction offers Georgia the opportunity to seek waivers under the current authority for counties that are eligible because of difficult labor markets.

Release Guidance for Good Cause Exemptions

 

Georgia’s SNAP policies indicate that “good cause provisions” can be used to exempt individuals from meeting work requirements on a case-by-case basis. Good causes include circumstances beyond the household’s control.[4] These circumstances include illness of a participant, illness of another household member or temporary absence from work due to changes in workload or reduction in hours.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is encouraging states to take affirmative steps to apply the good cause provision during this time.[5] We urge the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) to send guidance to all county Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) offices in the affected areas on the use of good-cause exemptions during this time. We also call the agency to post updated guidance for the use of good cause exemptions on the state’s SNAP sanctions section on the DFCS website and Georgia Gateway online portal.

Suspend Mandatory SNAP Works Program Participation

 

Georgia operates a mandatory employment & training (E&T) program (SNAP Works) for ABAWDs who live in Bulloch, DeKalb, Glynn, Rockdale, Gwinnett, Chatham, Clayton, Douglas and Henry counties.[6] ABAWDs who live in these counties are sanctioned if they do not participate in the state’s SNAP Works E&T Pilot program, which often requires in-person reporting. Georgia does not need to wait for USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s (FNS) approval for this, so we can act immediately.

Restore cuts to SNAP caseworkers in the FY 2021 DHS Budget

 

Although the General Assembly has suspended the legislative session indefinitely, the budget remains unfinished for Fiscal Year 2021. Georgia will undoubtedly need to invest in the state’s capacity to address an increase in the SNAP caseload during this time. The FY 2021 budget proposal included a $2.2 million reduction in spending for SNAP caseworkers.[7] The Georgia House took the first step in adding back in half of the cut, or about $1.1 million.[8] We strongly urge the Senate and House, once budget deliberations continue, to restore the full amount for DFCS and consider an actual appropriations increase for the agency for the next fiscal year beginning July 1 in preparation for the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic this year.

In addition, the budget should include increased funding to upgrade and make improvements to the online benefits system, Gateway, especially given the reality that much of the screening and enrollment activity will rely heavily in the short- and medium-term on the system. As state employees shift to an increasingly remote work schedule, a reliable and responsive Gateway system is more critical than ever. Emergency investment now can ensure the system is able to handle increased traffic and demand.

These are unprecedented times, and it is critical that one of Georgia’s largest safety net programs delivers the protection it can to families most vulnerable to economic shock. At minimum, these “low-hanging fruit” policy responses to COVID-19 keep food on the table and ensure the health and financial well-being of Georgians during this difficult period. No one should be denied or sanctioned because they are seeking to protect their own or the public’s health by following CDC recommendations for social distancing that will stem the spread of this contagion.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute requests your sincere and swift consideration of these policy levers to mitigate the harm Georgia’s low-income families will feel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Respectfully,

Taifa Signature

Taifa Butler,

President and CEO, GBPI

 

CC:

Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan

Speaker David Ralston

Department of Human Services Commissioner Robyn Crittenden

Division of Family and Children Services Director Tom Rawlings

 

 

Endnotes

[1] GBPI analysis of Georgia Department of Labor’s Labor Market Explorer, January 2020.

[2] GBPI analysis of Georgia Department of Labor’s 2019 Edition of Occupational Wages for Georgia Statewide.

[3] Judge Blocks Rule That Would Have Kicked 700,000 People Off SNAP (2020). https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2020/03/14/815748914/judge-blocks-rule-that-would-have-kicked-700-000-people-off-snap

[4] Chapter 3380-3 of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services Food Stamp (SNAP) Policy Manual, Online Directives Information System (ODIS)

[5] SNAP Eligibility Rules to Tighten Despite Coronavirus Outbreak (2020). https://thefern.org/ag_insider/snap-eligibility-rules-will-tighten-despite-coronavirus-outbreak/

[6] Chapter 3380-3 of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services Food Stamp (SNAP) Policy Manual, Online Directives Information System (ODIS)

[7] Overview: Georgia’s 2021 Fiscal year Budget for Human Services. https://gbpi.org/2020/overview-georgias-2021-fiscal-year-budget-for-human-services/

[8] House version of FY 2021 Appropriations

 

Support GBPI Today

The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute is a 501(c)3 organization. We depend on the support of donors like you. Your contribution makes the work that we do possible.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Newsletter