Evanston community members weigh in on new SNAP requirements, impact


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

The Evanston Farmers’ Market. The Friends of Evanston Farmers Markets is a nonprofit that matches every $25 spent each week at Evanston farmers’ markets with community grants and donations.

Daisy Conant, Copy Chief

The District of Columbia and 15 states are suing the Trump administration over a recent rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could result in hundreds of Evanston residents losing benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SNAP, colloquially known as “food stamps,” provides aid for food purchases to low-income families and individuals. The new rule, set to take effect April 1, will make it more difficult for states to waive the requirement that able-bodied adults without dependents must work at least 20 hours per week to receive program benefits.

Trump administration officials have claimed the new regulation will restore SNAP’s “original intent” and incentivize individuals to seek work. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a labor economist and the director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, said she is wary of the officials’ assertion.

She said studies have found that increasing work requirements for SNAP punishes participants according to their economic status and dampens the program’s counter-cyclical impact.

“Many of these folks are working in jobs where they don’t get to choose their hours, week to week, and sometimes they lose hours through no fault of their own,” Schanzenbach said. “If being unable to work over 20 hours a week means now you also lose your food benefits…you lose that insurance the government was supposed to provide. This policy really does undermine our safety net.”

House Democrats issued their support of the multi-state lawsuit Monday.

According to the 2016 American Community Survey, around 1,700 Evanston households receive SNAP benefits, the majority of which are black. Schanzenbach estimated the rule could impact between 200 and 300 Evanston residents, considering national levels of able-bodied adults without dependents.

“This will absolutely have a negative impact on Evanston poor and working class families,” said Nia Tavoularis, the director of development for Connections for the Homeless. “These families are already under a huge amount of stress, and when you take away small stipends that come SNAP, that just has a horribly detrimental impact on families that are already struggling to make it.”

Connections for the Homeless provides shelter, food and clothing for adults and families who are homeless or nearing homelessness. Tavoularis said Connections screens each of its clients for SNAP benefits and helps them access the benefits when appropriate.

She added that if the new SNAP requirements take effect in April, she expects to see more individuals drawing from Connections’ two food pantries, which individuals have access to regardless of need.

Many other local organizations focus on addressing issues of poverty and food insecurity in Evanston, such as the Evanston Rotary Club and Friends of Evanston Farmers Markets.

Program recipients in Illinois access SNAP benefits through Link cards, which are state-issued electronic debit cards. Vikki Proctor, president of FEFM, said the nonprofit matches every $25 spent each week at the Evanston Farmers’ Market with community grants and donations. She said the “Just 25+” program provides SNAP recipients with up to $675 in EFM credit over a 27-week market.

“We want to help all people, especially with low-level to access healthy and fresh foods,” Proctor said. “It’s abhorrent to us to understand that our government is once again trying to cut back the services that are given to these needy families. So we’ll continue to do what we do and hope that someday we’ll have a better government.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated a quote from Nia Tavoularis. Tavoularis discussed the small stipends that come from SNAP. The Daily regrets the error.

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