Speaker 1 00:00:18 Welcome back to Just a Bite and Happy 2023 Jori, my co-host, graciously let me interview her about the provisions we were looking closely at in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, which Congress passed in late December, 2022. Take a listen to learning more.
Speaker 1 00:00:50 Hi Jori. So Congress passed their annual spending package right before they recessed for the holidays, and there was a lot that was included in that bill, both encouraging and some concerning. Um, for the Ohioans we serve. There were intense negotiations up until the very end as they were trying to pass this legislation and even dodge a winter storm <laugh>. Um, I know this is a huge bill, so today I wanted to focus on some of the SNAP and child nutrition provisions that were included in the bill and their impact on Ohioans. So how about we start off with SNAP ea? It sounds like Congress has set a clear date for the end of those extra monthly benefits that SNAP participants were receiving.
Speaker 2 00:01:42 Yeah, absolutely. Let's, let's put our kind of time travel hats on and go back to early in the pandemic. Uh, the family's first Coronavirus Response Act was passed in March of 2020. And one of the provisions that was included at that time in that bill to provide media economic relief to all of the people who are being adversely impacted by COVID 19 was to attach what we refer to as SNAP emergency allotments to the federal public health emergency, as well as the state level declaration of an emergency. So, so we know much, much more about this particular pandemic now than we did then. And, um, you know, really all that we knew now was that we were in for what we knew back in Spring 2020 is that we were in for a few months maybe of hunkering down and staying safe and some economic hardship that we would need to alleviate, and then the air would clear and the concern would magically lift and we'd be back to normal.
Speaker 2 00:02:50 And we know that's not how things proceeded, but I think that was sort of, you know, the thought process, um, initially in that package passed out of Congress under the Trump administration in 2020. And so the SNAP emergency allotments have been bringing all SNAP households up to the maximum benefit amount for their household size throughout the pandemic. And additionally, it has been providing, um, up to at least $95 on top of the maximum or emergency, excuse me, the maximum household allotment for the household size for those households that already receive the maximum benefit amount for their household size. So the, the real impact for Ohio households of that emergency benefit is that on average they are receiving $90 per person per month, more in SNAP benefits to help them purchase groceries than they would traditionally under the normal, normal SNAP rules. Um, and all households are receiving at least $95 per month more in SNAP benefits for some households, particularly older adults, people living with disabilities and working families that don't normally receive the maximum benefit or are receiving closer to the minimum benefit, they may lose a couple hundred dollars or more of SNAP benefits per month.
Speaker 2 00:04:26 So we're gonna see, you know, an adverse impact on all SNAP participants across Ohio when these benefits do end. We have been preparing in our, in our advocate and provider community for the inevitable end of these emergency allotments. We've been preparing, you know, philosophically and theoretically knowing that it would be coming, but the timing has been unclear again, as these emergency allotments have been tied to the public health emergency status. And so what the consolidated appropriations acted was decouple that from the public health emergency itself. So I wanna be clear that the federal public health emergency is not ending. Actually as of yesterday, uh, the Department of Health and Human Services, um, uh, secretary did, uh, renew the public health emergency at the federal level. And there's a lot of other things that are tied to that declaration that public health emergency is, um, now going to be more solely focused on the, um, you know, the public health, the direct public health impact, and less so the economic hardship tied to the public health impact of the pandemic.
Speaker 2 00:05:36 Um, it allows things like, um, telehealth, um, which has been really critical and, and well received throughout the pandemic. So the, again, the consolidated appropriations back, um, after that end of year spending package that we sometimes call the omnibus decoupled the SNAP emergency allotments from that public health emergency. And so, um, that is a lot of background on why, how we got here today. And, you know, we've been wondering and waiting and, um, trying to forecast as best as possible when these emergency allotments would go away. And so, as you said, Sarah, now we do have a firm end date that is nationwide. There are a handful of states, I think it are 17 states that have chosen to discontinue those emergency allotments prior to this federal end date. But the remainder, the, the remainder of the states, including Ohio currently, and will continue receiving those SNAP emergency allotments until March. So SNAP participants will receive that second issuance that they get each month and have been getting for close to three years this month in January. They will get them next month in February, and then in March they will only get their first issuance, which is their normal benefit amount. That's based on, um, you know, the standard rules around SNAP eligibility.
Speaker 1 00:07:07 What would be the, I guess anecdotally what would be the impact, um, that this would have on SNAP households and honestly even our network and our, you know, state's economy with all that money being taken out of the economy?
Speaker 2 00:07:26 Yeah, you raised a lot of really good points in that question. It's hard to really wrap our heads around the scope and breadth of the impact this is gonna have. I mean, again, as I said, we've liked theoretically been preparing for this, but there's no way you can prepare, uh, for this across a lot of sectors and within individual household budget. So let me first start with the household budgetary impact. I'll just restate that. Ohio receives about $120 million more per month in 100% federally funded SNAP benefits to help feed its residents. And it has been receiving 120 million more per month in those SNAP benefits for close to three years now. So overnight, beginning in March, 120 million in purchasing power to buy groceries at local retailers, of which we have close to 10,000 across Ohio, participating in in accepting snap E B T benefits, um, that will go away.
Speaker 2 00:08:33 So we know that that will obviously have an immediate impact on individual households, um, who have been counting on these benefits, especially given that we're, we've been under about a year of just intense historically high food inflation in particular. Um, and, uh, there again, I stated earlier, but I'll restate that on average, their benefits will be reduced by $90 per person per month when those benefits end. And for some households it will be much more. Um, and then again, at the, at the grocery and retailer level, this will impact their ability to, you know, keep staffed their, this is revenue that they count on as part of how they, um, bring in dollars just like any other sector. And we all depend on our local grocery stores and food retailers to be accessible. We all expect to be able to, um, get to a retailer close by and find a wide array of wholesome like wholesome foods, um, to put on our plates that are relatively affordable and, and nutritious.
Speaker 2 00:09:45 And, um, you know, our ability to count on that is a collective one, right? We're like so interconnected, especially in our food systems. It doesn't mean anything if you yourself can go and afford the food you need, but the consumers that live in your neighborhood can't because that retailer is not going to be able to stay solvent if they have fewer customers who are able to afford their products, right? So we know that these, um, enhanced SNAP benefits have been really critical to help those grocers and retailers, um, continue to meet community food needs, uh, for all of us. So, you know, I were very concerned about that and, and food accessibility because, um, the Emergency Hunger Relief Network that we represent can't be everything to everyone. And that's really the final thing I'll say, which is that 120 million a month is something that we could never touch as a hunger relief network.
Speaker 2 00:10:46 And I just wanna state that we have gotten really, really helpful news that we're super grateful about recently. Um, twice over the past four months or so, our governor and our state legislature have, um, you know, passed additional federal resources through to us to purchase more food to meet immediate needs. We're so, so grateful for that and we're grateful for the partnership, um, to help keep our agricultural sector stable and, um, as well as making sure that we have food on the shelves for folks in dire situations. But even though we're talking about 40 million in total in additional food purchasing dollars for the Emergency Hunger Relief Network in Ohio, you can do the math that's not gonna replace $120 million a month and food purchasing power at the grocery level. So, you know, we are deeply concerned about, about the impact this will have on our Emergency Hunger Relief network as well, and how we'll be able to keep up.
Speaker 1 00:11:51 You hit on really important points there. And you know, although these benefits, these extra benefits were meant to be temporary, um, I know this will lead to a lot of hardship for many families receiving snap. Um, and the best thing we can do is, is prepare for those, um, those ending. Um, there was also in the omnibus a, um, positive temporary change to snap. Um, didn't Congress direct U S D A to address, uh, the snap E B T skimming that has been happening in many states? Do we know yet what, um, families will have to do to get those benefits replaced if they've had them stolen?
Speaker 2 00:12:39 Yeah, thanks for asking about that. You know, in some ways, similar to what we experienced, um, throughout all of Covid kind of learning what flexibilities we did or didn't have within statute on various food nutrition programs and trying to work, um, with Congress and with administrative officials to adapt those regulations where necessary to meet the immediate crisis and the challenge of our time, that's, this is a new challenge, and this is, um, basically, uh, unfortunately we've seen an uptick and an increase in a development of sort of a, a criminal enterprise really, that is targeting unfortunately, SNAP customers. Um, this is really rooted in kind of the lack of investment in modernization in the payments that are issued. Um, the benefits that are issued right now, SNAP benefits are issued on electronic benefits transfer cards or E B T cards, and those essentially work like a debit card.
Speaker 2 00:13:37 So much like you probably know that it's not terribly safe to go regularly to your local grocer or retailer and use your debit card to make your purchases, um, because that card mechanism provides re ready access to your, to your funds. Um, thus the E B T cards are also being targeted by criminal enterprises. So, um, customers first on the coasts and now going into other states, including parts of Ohio, are seeing their benefits stolen at the transaction level. Um, basically their card information is being skimmed. If you're familiar with other skimming devices you've heard of, you've probably been told, um, you know, to check at the gas station pump when you're filling up for a skimmer. Um, similarly, this is happening on a widespread level, and there wasn't an existing mechanism, there wasn't an EXI existing authority for U S D A to replace those benefits.
Speaker 2 00:14:35 We have other instances where, um, for example, if there is a natural disaster that leads to food spoilage, if there's a, you know, a long-term electricity outage and SNAP customers have spent their benefits and then lose the food that they've purchased, we have authority and a mechanism to replace those benefits. So this required an act of Congress to grant that authority to U S D A and we're really relieved that they took action. Um, you know, and we hope again that this puts some onus on Congress in the upcoming Farm Bill to do something permanently about modernizing that kind of payment mechanism and that issuance mechanism so that SNAP customers aren't, uh, don't continue to be the victims of, um, you know, a lack of adequate technology in in spending their benefits. And we don't have clear information yet about exactly what, um, Ohio families specifically should do to get those benefits replaced.
Speaker 2 00:15:29 But I will share that our state agency and county agencies are taking a lot of actions to help, um, consumers prevent, um, you know, being victims of these fraudulent, um, uh, criminal enterprises. Um, so they're providing tips to all consumers through robocalls, texts and emails. Um, they're also encouraging that folks regularly change the pins that are associated with their cards for security purposes. And, um, you can also visit their site for more tips on how to keep your E B T cards safe if you are a SNAP customer. And I would encourage you, if you do experience in our victimized bias Snap, e b t skimming to reach out to your county j f s or if you need more guidance to, um, a snap outreach specialist in your area or to your legal aid for, for more guidance, and I'm sure that you'll receive more information and guidance soon. Um, if we see, you know, additional uptick in this, in this area,
Speaker 1 00:16:36 That's great that they were able to make that change and that fix. Um, and kind of shifting to child nutrition, I know that mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you, um, talked about, um, the push to either have a separate child nutrition reauthorization, um, or, you know, include child nutrition provisions, um, in this annual spending package in a podcast that we had a couple, um, I guess couple months ago now, um, thankfully Congress heard advocates calls for up updates to the child nutrition programs and took some lessons learned from the pandemic, um, what's new in terms of summer meals.
Speaker 2 00:17:28 Yeah, we're really excited that we were able to get some child nutrition priorities across the finish line in the end of your spending package. It's a big deal. We have not had a child nutrition reauthorization bill go forward in, um, more than a decade. And, um, you know, as I touched on earlier, as you said in a previous episode, there's a lot of reasons for why it was unlikely if we didn't get something done in this bill, we wouldn't get something done for several years. So we couldn't be more thrilled about some of the provisions that were included as permanent funding mechanisms, um, in the Consolidated Appropriations Act. So probably the, the most exciting thing that I'll just emphasize is that, um, you are probably familiar, our listeners are probably familiar that, um, over the course of the pandemic, there have been summer, uh, E B T benefits for families with children.
Speaker 2 00:18:26 So if you recall, again, going back to the spring of 2020 when all of our nation's schools closed and kids were at home and didn't have ready access to the free school meals that they counted on, normally our federal government and our state governments had to work together to think really creatively in partnership with, with schools and local providers like our network to adapt existing statutes and use emergency flexibility to get meals one way or the other, uh, to kids who needed them. And so, um, you know, well before that, we already knew this was a problem. We have out of school time periods throughout the year that our, um, more problematic where we see childhood hunger increase because kids don't have those free school meals to count on. Um, that's true over the weekend during the school year. That's true for school breaks, and that's definitely true over the summer.
Speaker 2 00:19:25 So, you know, we've been working for a very long time here in Ohio on state funded programs that have been demonstrating the need for more, um, you know, more strategies to break down those barriers and make sure kids get the meals they need. So what we're really excited about is that the Consolidated Appropriations Act made permanent. So for 10 years, um, and for hopefully every year thereafter, because families will be so excited and thrilled about this benefit, there will be a summer E B T benefit for eligible families with kids. We're really excited about that. And then another thing I'll touch on is that, um, the bill also included some flexible options around flexibility that we've seen utilized during the pandemic that are really critical, especially for kids in outlying rural areas. So one way that we've historically as a nation gotten meals and food to children when schools are closed is through a program called the, uh, summer Food Service Program, which is a federally funded program that provides a reimbursement to providers, both schools and community organizations, many of which are in our network, um, to provide meals just as schools do during the school year.
Speaker 2 00:20:41 Um, the problem with that is, of course, that there's not funding to bus the kids to the meal site. There's not funding to provide all of the educational and recreational programming that is, you know, might be tied to an all days, you know, summer camp. Um, and for kids that live in areas that are more sparsely populated, it's really not an economic, it's not a smart economic choice for a family to put gas in the car to drive their kid 20 miles each way to consume that meal. And our statute has long prevented providers from, um, traditionally providing meals outside of a congregate based setting, meaning that kids had to sit onsite under the supervision of, of an operator at that meal site and consume their meal in order for that meal to be reimbursed. Um, so we're really excited also that the Consolidated Appropriations Act includes, um, more flexibility, flexibility, so there will be some options for certain areas where this is most problematic to, um, offer the ability to serve non congregate meals instead of congregate meals. Me meaning that a provider can, um, you know, deliver those meals as we've done, um, through state funded programs for many years. Um, and we're gonna have to see kind of how all the details shake out on this, to be honest with you. And, but we have a lot of, um, track record and pilots around both summer E B T as well as on non congregate, and we certainly accelerated all of that work during the past couple of summers. So, um, both of these are outstanding victories that, that we're really glad to see prioritized.
Speaker 1 00:22:20 Yeah, absolutely. It's, it's really exciting, um, and really historic, to be honest, um, that we have those changes. Um, and I know for a lot of providers, they've been asking for these changes for a while, um, even some who have been on this podcast, <laugh> <laugh>. Um, so were there any other provisions that were or were not included in, um, the spending package that we were watching? I know that there was some public pressure to include a child tax credit expansion in the bill, but that was ultimately not included, unfortunately.
Speaker 2 00:23:04 Yeah, that's a huge source of disappointment, Sarah. And, you know, you've all heard us speak ad nauseum about the incredible value of the advanced expanded child tax credits that were available in 2021. I just heard another story this morning on N P R discussing, um, you know, the continued high rates of inflation for basic household goods and services. You know, the price of haircuts are up, the, the price of food, of course, that the grocery store is up. Um, you know, it's cost more to get a mortgage and it costs more to finance a mortgage. All of those things are weighing on people. Um, and those advanced expanded child tax credits were just absolutely huge in, um, you know, really driving equity across our economy so that people raising families and, and our workers had more resources to, um, you know, feel secure that they were gonna be able to pay their bills and maybe even put a little bit away for, for a rainy day or an emergency.
Speaker 2 00:24:04 So we are incredibly disappointed that the, um, expanded child tax credit was not included, although I can't say we were surprised because we know that it has unfortunately become kind of a, um, political hot potato and, you know, we, we just wanna work with all of our listeners here, all of our advocates, all of the folks who are counting on that. I mean, almost every family with kids across the state of Ohio received those benefits. And I, I can't, I've never talked to one who didn't value them and, um, appreciate them and believe that they were a really good thing that our government was doing for its people. So, um, you know, we just gotta keep working together to talk about how meaningful that is and how important it is that we continue to invest in, in, um, you know, kids and families who have, who are burdened with, you know, additional, um, significant expenses to try to get through their, to pay their childcare, to pay those extra medical expenses, to put all that food on the table, buy those shoes every six months when those kids feet keep growing, all of those things that happen, uh, for them.
Speaker 2 00:25:09 So yeah, we were definitely disappointed about that. Um, another thing I should highlight that was in the Consolidated Appropriations Act that we're gonna actually talk about at length and a future episode coming up is that, um, in addition to what I talked about around the, around Congress using that bill as a mechanism to decouple SNAP emergency allotments from the public health emergency, Congress also used that as a vehicle to decouple, um, Medicaid continuous coverage from the public health emergency. So we're gonna have our colleague talk a lot more about that coming up, but we will start to see, um, folks who have continued to participate and count on Medicaid coverage throughout the pandemic lose coverage through Medicaid, um, as redeterminations start. And I will just note that one of the impacts, um, related to that, that will also impact food nutrition policy is that in our state and in many other states, the same agencies that manage SNAP caseloads are also the agencies that manage Medicaid caseloads.
Speaker 2 00:26:17 They are understaffed under resourced and, and they had significant staff turnover throughout the pandemic to the point that they have many case workers who have never taken adverse action on cases who have never redetermined someone and found them to be ineligible for Medicaid, um, during their time at the agency. So there's a lack of familiarity with how that process should work from a consumer rights perspective. There's also just not adequate resources in staffing to, to meet the, um, level of need that customers will have. We currently already don't have that. So, you know, we continue to call along with advocates for a house future for more resources to go to our county agencies that we're all counting on to be able to work these cases and comply with all of the expectations of the, the federal funding sources and as well as the Ohio consumers. And we'll be watching that really closely, um, you know, to, to see what impact that has.
Speaker 1 00:27:21 I think we should end by reminding the listeners what their next steps should be if they themselves are participating in SNAP or know someone who is, um, how can SNAP recipients be prepared for the end of those extra SNAP benefits they have been receiving? And also how the, um, department is really handling, um, that, um, huge caseload that is, um, impending, um, and those changes that need to be made.
Speaker 2 00:27:56 Yeah, I mean, I think it's really important for everyone to just be as aware as possible that kind of two truths can live at the same time. And one truth is that everyone deserves access to the information they need to understand their benefits, and that's an entitlement of theirs to that information, to those benefits that, that they're owed. Um, the other truth that lives concurrently with that is that we don't have adequate resources, staffing or funding, um, training experience, institutional knowledge, et cetera at the county level to manage this in a way that is going to provide every consumer that adequate, you know, access to that information. We are just true, truly, um, indebted to all of the county case workers, um, as well as the county officials and the state agency workers and officials who are doing the very best they can and have been for three years in a really challenging environment.
Speaker 2 00:28:59 So this isn't by no means, um, to, you know, to criticize their lack of, of effort or will or commitment to a mission and service, um, to consumers. But you know, that's the reality that we're, that we're all facing. So I wanna, it's important for folks to know off the top that you will not lose the benefits that are currently on your card. So please understand that if you have been trying to squirrel away some of your benefits because you've known that these emergency allowance would be ending, you're not going to lose those benefits. They're yours and come March, they're not gonna be wiped away. The second thing I will just reiterate is that I think most SNAP customers have become acquainted at this point with the fact that they receive an issuance earlier in the month in one benefit amount, and then they receive an issuance at the end of the month for another benefit amount.
Speaker 2 00:29:54 And again, that second issuance is the benefit amount that is going to end beginning in March. So your normal snap benefit amount that's based on your household size, your income, and then other expenses that you can deduct from your income, um, will continue to be issued. You will not lose access to that benefit. I will say that I know that maintaining access to that benefit does require access to the county agency because traditionally we have re-certification interviews that everyone has to complete to prove that they continue to be income eligible for those benefits. And that is definitely a challenge call volume wise, we are encouraged that we just saw, um, yesterday that the, um, department of Job and family services is going to offer that counties can opt into a waiver that U S D A has extended, um, that would allow them to temporarily waive those re-certification interviews, which would help them manage their caseload.
Speaker 2 00:30:59 That's gonna be county specific and we don't know what that will look like yet, but we are encouraged by that. But again, for our listeners, if you feel like you have expenses like childcare expenses that you pay out of pocket excess shelter expenses, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and you wanna do a benefits checkup to make sure that you're receiving that normal benefit amount that's appropriate and accurate based on all of those factors, I would encourage you to visit our website, go to Ohio foodbank.org, click get help. You'll see, um, all of of our step outreach food banks who do this day in and day out, who can walk you through a benefits checkup so that you can talk with them about, well, this is my situation, this is the normal benefit I receive. Does that sound right? Or should I be looking at claiming some other deductions that would drive down my net income and drive up my benefit amount?
Speaker 2 00:31:55 Um, also keep in mind if anything's changed for you over the past few years, if you have a different, uh, address, if your household size has changed, et cetera, um, make sure that you're updating that on your case. You can do that at the self-service [email protected]
Really important that you do that. So you're getting all of these notices so that like put your phone number in there so you can get texts or robocall when there's known E B T skimming, you know, so you can get these important and critical, um, pieces of communication, um, from, from our providers who administer snap. So, um, and, and I'll just close by restating that we are here for you in the Emergency Hunger Relief Network. We're gonna do the best we can, um, to fill as much of this gap as we can. And you know, we need your voice and your help in in doing that too. So consider joining us as an advocate, um, you know, going forward.
Speaker 1 00:32:51 Thank you so much joy for sitting down with me and talking a little bit about this. I think this will be helpful for a lot of folks who are either trying to see what sort of changes were made or who really need to begin preparing for, for those changes. So thank you.
Speaker 2 00:33:09 My pleasure. Thank you, Sarah.
Speaker 1 00:33:16 I hope you learned something during my conversation with Jri. To wrap up, I wanted to share this quote by Vince Hall Feeding America's Chief Government Relations Officer. He says, quote, last year, one in eight kids in the US face hunger, but for black and Latino children, these numbers are persistently higher. In 2021, black and Latino children were more than twice as likely to face hunger as their white classmates. This staggering and harsh reality drives the Feeding America network of 200 food banks, 21 statewide food bank associations, and over 60,000 faith-based and charitable food pantries and meal programs to do, to do all it can to help families keep nourishing food on the table. But when schools close for summer and school meals disappear, food insecurity rises.
Speaker 1 00:34:26 Establishing a nationwide summer E B T program is a critical step forward to ensure that every child in the US, no matter their race, background or zip code, can access the food that they need to thrive. By creating the first new permanent federal nutrition program in nearly 50 years, lawmakers are acknowledging that our country needs long-term solutions, not just temporary pandemic assistance to end child hunger. Feeding America's strongly supported the passage of the Omni Omnibus spending bill because of the permanent programs the bill creates and enhances to address summer hunger, despite our opposition to the early sun setting of some temporary pandemic related benefit enhancements to pay for these provisions. Today's students are tomorrow's leaders. They must have the tools for success, including consistent access to nutritious food feeding. America will continue to work alongside the communities. We serve, Congress and the administration to create solutions to end hunger among all children in the US no matter where they learn, play, and live. End quote. Thank you for listening, and we'll talk to you soon.