What happened with food stamps in New Hampshire this spring?
On March 16, the New Hampshire Senate voted along party lines to pass Senate Bill 7 (SB7), a measure aimed at reducing expanded eligibility for families applying to receive SNAP benefits (supplemental nutrition assistance program). SNAP, formerly called food stamps, is 100 percent federally funded, with administrative costs shared equally between the state and federal government. SNAP dollars can only be used for food. As reported by the US News and World Report, NHPR, WMUR, and the Concord Monitor, 17,000 families might have lost benefits from the proposed changes.
What did the Co-op do about it?
When the N.H. Health, Human Services & Elderly Affairs Committee met to hear public comment on April 12th, I attended the hearing along with Emily Rogers, Member Education Manager. As the Co-op’s Nutrition Specialist, I was eager for the opportunity to speak out against a measure that would potentially place thousands of New Hampshire families at risk for food insecurity. Emily and I waited for more than four hours among religious leaders, teachers, food bank employees, and concerned citizens for a chance to speak in opposition to SB7.
So what happened?
On Tuesday, April 18th, the house committee unanimously voted to retain the bill. It may be worked on within the House committee this year and could come up for a vote again next spring.
Who is currently eligible for food stamps?
Federal guidelines outline SNAP eligibility criteria: Both individuals and families with gross earnings at or below 130% of the federal poverty line [FPL] and adjusted income that falls below 100% of the FPL. States have the option to offer expanded eligibility to increase this income threshold. The current expanded eligibility in New Hampshire is unique because only families with gross incomes between 130-185% of the FPL can qualify (many states allow individuals, and some as high as 200% of the FPL).
Like any other SNAP applicant, these families are still only eligible if certain expenses (such as childcare, heating, and housing) adjust their net income to less than 100% of the FPL.
In practice, this allows more working families to qualify for food assistance. Looking at the actual numbers, 185% of the FPL is $44,000 for a family of four: After qualifying expenses, eligible income for a four person household is $24,600.
Why does this matter to the Co-op?
The Co-op is a food retailer with a defined commitment to the community: According to our end statements,
As a direct result of our business, the Upper Valley will have a retail source of food that is affordable, healthy, grown and/or processed locally to the fullest extent possible.
Beyond what we offer in our stores, the Co-op takes many steps to support area businesses and non-profits that directly address food access. Ed Fox spent many years at the helm of the Vermont Foodbank, and his commitment to combating hunger was immediately apparent as he joined the Co-op as General Manager in 2016.
One of our community partners, the Upper Valley Haven, recently shared with us an interview they conducted with an Upper Valley resident. This man is a single father who has never been unemployed, yet [has been faced with a choice between] being $2oo dollars short on rent or not having enough food in the house. When asked, “How do you feel about the availability of resources to help [families in need]?” He responds:
“You get a lot of money when you have nothing, but once you start bettering your situations: getting a job, getting an apartment, etc., your benefits and help is cut and then you are drowning again. It creates worry about getting a job because if you lose benefits (food stamps or health insurance) suddenly, then you are back in the same situation… starting from scratch again.”
Community partners like the Haven, Listen Community Services, The Upper Valley Senior Center, Willing Hands,
and other state and privately-funded food banks
that currently assist New Hampshire residents do so,
in large part, in addition to federal assistance programs.
The Co-op is committed to the success of these programs, with the goal of healthy food access for all members of our community. To see any reductions in the number of families receiving SNAP benefits would not only put a strain on our partner organizations, but would almost certainly cause more families to experience food insecurity. Though this conversation has ended (in New Hampshire) for the time being, there is no doubt it will resurface again and again.
What is the Co-op Doing about Food Insecurity?
The Co-op has dedicated itself to this issue through its Food For All program, Kid’s Club free fruit in stores, and by offering complimentary cooking and nutrition information in our stores and throughout the community. We are constantly seeking ways to expand our direct offerings to those who are food insecure in our community.
Food for all is a renewable one-year program that provides 10% off most purchases to qualifying community members. I teach at least one free cooking class a month in our Culinary Learning Center and have attend wellness fairs and other events in the Upper Valley free of charge. Our Co-op gives employees paid time to volunteer as they choose within the community or through weekly trips organized by the Co-op. We are devoted to supporting fair trade, local farmers, bakers, honey, maple, and many other local producers, helping to keep revenue within the community.
As outlined in our 2016 Community Impact Report, the Co-op donated 196,532 pounds of produce to Willing Hands, and member donations through Pennies for Change totaled $137,599 last year alone. For more information on the proceeds from Pennies for Change and our community partners, click here.
There are many public health organizations not specifically mentioned in this blog post that also work to address food insecurity and the health needs of New Hampshire residents. If you feel you have been left out, please reach out to me in the email provided in my bio, below.
Featured image by Lindsay Scouras.
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