Coalition urges immediate state-level action to remove barriers to public assistance programs amid pandemic
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, Floridians are still struggling to afford necessities like food and housing. This is the main finding of a new report co-released today by the Safety Net Advocacy Coalition (SNAC), a project of the non-partisan Florida Policy Institute (FPI), and SouthStrong, a project of the Southern Economic Advancement Project. The report analyzes data from a state survey of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients last month.
“Until the economy recovers, our state should utilize all options in safety net programs to provide much-needed assistance to families struggling to make ends meet,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “Now is not the time to reinstate work requirements and other roadblocks to getting help.”
The report found that:
- Food insecurity and job loss have been the top challenges in the pandemic. Fifty-six percent of the survey respondents — Floridians who receive SNAP — found it difficult to purchase enough food since the COVID-19 crisis began and 36 percent reported that their greatest challenge was the loss of a job.
- Government aid made a real difference for many families, but much of it has expired. Food assistance programs were the most frequently mentioned programs — 45 percent of respondents said food programs made a real difference in the pandemic.
- Help with food, housing, and utilities are needed now. Fifty-eight percent of respondents were worried that they might not have stable housing in the next two months. The top issue was COVID-19 support and relief, which 71 percent of those surveyed were concerned about.
SNAC recommends that the state take the following steps to ensure that families can access the help they need to weather the COVID-19 crisis:
- Request permission from USDA to provide P-EBT in 2020-2021 to children who have a reduced number of days or hours that they’re physically present in a brick-and-mortar school or child care.
- Continue the suspension of work requirements for SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF or cash assistance) participants.
- Ease recertification requirements for SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid.
- Simplify interview requirements for SNAP and TANF applicants who have verified their eligibility. For new SNAP applicants who have little or no income or resources to put food on the table, postpone their interview so long as the family has verified their identity.
- Increase time limits for TANF. Ordinarily, adults in Florida can receive TANF for no more than 48 cumulative months, unless they meet the criteria for an exemption due to barriers and limited employment prospects. This is more stringent than federal law, which allows up to 60 months of assistance.
“We look forward to working with our partners in Florida to hold policymakers accountable for their response to this unprecedented pandemic,” added Knight.
SNAC is made up of members from more than 89 nonprofits, health advocacy groups, food banks, legal aid services, faith groups, and others, all committed to preserving the health and livelihood of families struggling to get by on low income during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
SouthStrong is a collection of Southern organizations and scholars seeking an equitable and people-first response to economic recovery in a post-pandemic South.