Food program changes in April this year
TRI-COUNTY AREA--The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program, has several federally-mandated changes that take effect in April.
As of April 1, the Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) program will take effect, meaning individuals who are not exempt from work requirements will have to meet federal regulations and engage in 80 hours of a work program or activity per month.
"We have about 18 cases that will be affected by this, but that is a very small number, less than 1 percent of our total (1,934 cases)," said Amy D. Miller, commissioner of the Yates County Department of Social Services.
In Schuyler County, the percentage is higher, according to Commissioner of Social Services JoAnn Fratarcangelo.
"There are roughly 1,100 cases or 2,000 individuals currently utilizing SNAP benefits. However, we are really only looking at roughly 100 individuals that will be affected by ABAWD," Fratarcangelo said.
SNAP is designed to help households that may not be able to meet all of their nutritional needs. According to Fratarcangelo, SNAP assists individuals with disabilities who are not able to work, individuals who have been laid off or lost employment, individuals who may be working who just don't bring home a big enough salary, or elderly people who may be living on limited income.
Both Fratarcangelo and Miller said that those affected will receive help to get acclimated to the new regulations.
"We will also increase our referrals to CSS Workforce NY One-Stop office which is conveniently located right across the hall from DSS," Fratarcangelo said in an email.
For her part Miller said that one of the benefits of living in a small community like Yates County is that there are plenty of non-profits able and willing to help pick up any slack. Both Miller and Fratarcangelo were adamant that the new regulations would not impact anyone with children.
Individuals in the SNAP program affected by ABAWD will have a three-month period that will be tracked. During this time, if the individual does not engage in a work program or activity, their case will close.
The majority of people using SNAP benefits in Yates and Schuyler are individuals who already work and many have children.
"The number of people we have isn't because of not working but because they can't make a living wage and support themselves. If I can work full time and still be eligible for food stamp benefits that's an indication my wages aren't great," Miller said.
While Fratarcangelo said it is always good when those on SNAP engage in work training or gainful employment, there are a number of difficulties those people will have to face.
"The changes require individuals to engage in work activities and the only challenge with this is Schuyler County is primarily driven by the tourist season and as a result, available jobs decrease during the winter months. Another challenge for the county is transportation. Individuals that do not have their own means of transportation and that do not live close to a bus route face that as a barrier," Fratarcangelo said.
With roughly 10 percent of the county receiving some level of SNAP assistance, Miller said the program is incredibly important locally.
"And most of them are working families," she said.
Fratarcangelo said that there are many misconceptions surrounding SNAP benefits.
"The biggest misconception we hear about SNAP is that anyone can apply and be awarded benefits. The only truth to this is anyone can indeed apply but there is a process that takes income and resources into account before eligible benefits are issued. A lot of time and effort is involved to determine eligibility and the amount of benefits issued, if any," Fratarcangelo said.
Miller agreed, and said that a common circumstance in Yates that leads families to needing assistance is when a family takes in a child that is not theirs due to their parents' incarceration or other reasons.
"No one is getting rich (on SNAP)," Miller said.