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The Impact of Increasing SNAP Benefits on District Communities

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at American chapter.

Washington, D.C. will boost Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 10% between January and September of 2024 to address rising food insecurity.

Using the city’s $40 million surplus, the initiative will automatically raise monthly SNAP payments for over 145,000 residents.

SNAP, a government program that 22% of the District’s population relies on, provides food benefits to low-income families based on need.

“In many ways, SNAP has been a lifeline for my son, with his limited diet due to food allergies/sensitivities and aversions,” said Latisha Reid, a mother of three and Ward 5 resident. “In reality, it’s been a lifeline for us all.”

The average payment per household member is $188 per month. Councilmember Christina Henderson, who spearheaded the Give SNAP A Raise Act, estimates the increase will provide an average boost of $47 for most families.

“For some families who are able to really stretch it, that can be an entire additional three to four days worth of meals to help a family who may be facing food insecurity,” said Henderson.

According to the Capital Area Food Bank, 35% of Washington, D.C. residents face food insecurity. Nearly one-third of them are children.

“This is a necessary solution for those that are experiencing increased costs at grocery stores, that are continuously experiencing a lack of funding in order to pay for their groceries,” said Lamonika Jones, the Director of D.C. Hunger Solutions.

Henderson said she was inspired to propose the legislation to boost SNAP benefits after seeing how the pandemic emergency payments were able to help struggling families and seniors.

“The food purchasing power under the old or existing plan just wasn’t delivering for families to be able to purchase enough meals to be able to eat all throughout the month,” Henderson said.

Before the pandemic, Wanda Dudley, a Ward 8 resident and senior, said she began to face food insecurity following a diabetes diagnosis and rising food costs.

“I was receiving $42 a month. My average benefit was less than $1.50 a day,” Dudley said. “It was like a noose around my neck enslaved to the program and victimized me with fewer choices to what was available and affordable to me.”

The pandemic emergency allotments of at least $95 per month ended on March 1, cutting benefits for 90,000 District residents.

Henderson was determined to fill this gap and provide participants with the resources to purchase healthy and necessary food options for their families.

“The Give Snap a Raise Act would make the difference between continuing to provide those much-needed healthier, nutritious, foods that help to keep not only my son healthy, [but] make a difference in his overall long-term healthcare,” Reid said.

The economic impact of the boost goes beyond enrolled households. D.C. Hunger Solutions estimates that every dollar invested in SNAP stimulates the economy by about $1.80.

Jones highlighted that the increased purchasing power will offer relief to local businesses and retailers, improving the economy.

The initiative will also help address underlying causes of hunger, such as food accessibility.

Henderson explained that many low-income areas, such as Wards 7 and 8, have little access to healthy food due to a lack of grocery stores.

“We have two wards in our city that have two grocery stores between them to serve over 100,000 residents whereas we have some parts of our city that have 11 to 15 grocery store options,” said Henderson.

Henderson found that grocery stores seek areas with consistently high revenues, yet in parts of Washington with many benefit-receiving residents, revenues peak only when benefits are initially allotted. She hopes the increase in benefits will extend the revenue stream and attract grocery stores into these underserved areas, enhancing food accessibility.

Jones acknowledges the increase as a positive step forward but emphasizes that addressing food insecurity remains a complex challenge in Washington, D.C. It’s not just about affordability but also access to fresh produce, transportation, affordable housing and living wages.

Jones and Henderson advocate for federal-level action to address food insecurity, stressing the need to adjust benefits above the yearly minimum to account for areas with higher rates of inflation.

“Increasing funding for ‘Give SNAP a Raise’ and making this a permanent part of funding sets an example for what can be done in other states,” Jones said. “Food is a basic human right, so this sets the stage and sends a message on the federal level that more needs to be done.”

Henderson stated that food insecurity and access must be a priority for Washington leaders, and added that she hopes they can work together to make the temporary increase permanent.

Jones stressed the importance of sustained advocacy and encouraged community engagement during the upcoming budget season, urging residents to lend their voices and support for initiatives like “Give SNAP a Raise.” She emphasized the need for everyone to stay informed about food-related issues, participate in community initiatives, and support efforts aimed at reducing hunger.

“You may not be eligible for SNAP but understand the importance,” Jones said. “Hunger can affect anyone because hunger doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t have an identity, anyone at any point in time could be struggling with hunger.”

“Food insecurity, in and of itself, shouldn’t be a stressor,” Reid stated. “Whether it’s about childhood hunger, a senior or an adult, hunger/food insecurity transcends all.”

Maryjane is a junior at American University majoring in journalism and business. She is passionate about social justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and women's rights. Maryjane is an editor for HCAU and lives in D.C.