Advocacy groups are petitioning for the end of SNAP interview requirements

NEW YORK — Student and legal advocacy groups have petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eliminate the interview requirement for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applicants to receive food assistance.

The groups argue that the interview requirement is burdensome and prevents those eligible for food assistance from receiving it. The National Student Legal Defense Network, the Center for Law and Social Policy and the California Student Aid Commission are among the organizations calling for its abolition. A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said the agency is reviewing the proposal.

SNAP helps low-income families supplement their budgets so they can purchase groceries, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. An estimated 42 million Americans are currently receiving benefits averaging $212 per person or $401 per household.

Currently, a government agency must complete an applicant’s initial certification interview, either by telephone or in person, within 30 days of an application for SNAP.

Expedited interviews can take place within a seven-day period for people with special needs who meet certain income criteria. Seasonal agricultural workers, migrants and certain other households may also receive expedited interviews.

Eligible households will then receive a message indicating the certification period, or how long they will receive SNAP benefits. Before that period ends, a participant’s local SNAP office will contact them with information on how to recertify.

Aviana Kimani, 24, a student at West Los Angeles College, received SNAP benefits for a year and a half before leaving the program, she said, in part because of the difficulty of scheduling the mandatory recertification interview.

Initially, Kimani signed up for food assistance through her local food bank, but she found it challenging to go to the social services office in person during open hours to renew her eligibility due to her work and school commitments. She was moving at the time, she said, and everything within the SNAP assistance program was paper-based in her case, which meant there was the added challenge of keeping up with the process and changing her address after the move.

“You can’t choose the time – it’s just given to you – and because it’s usually during the day, it can hinder you when you’re working or going to school,” Kimani said. “You also don’t know how long the conversation will last. If I had not had to go through the screening process, I would certainly have received benefits for longer. But if you don’t keep it up, you will be rejected.”

When SNAP was created in 1978, the Department of Agriculture retained the interview requirement, carried over from the previous food stamp program, stating that the interview both helps the agency understand a household’s circumstances and helps the household understand the program.

“Based on past experience, the department believes that the interview is critical to the certification process and should be carefully monitored and regulated,” the agency said at the time.

But interviews are not required by the federal statute governing the SNAP program, the organizations petitioning the government note. They argue that the current regulations are an outdated bureaucratic hurdle.

A 2021 study of California enrollment data found that 31% of SNAP applicants in Los Angeles County were denied SNAP because they missed their job interview, compared to just 6% who were denied because they did not meet eligibility requirements. Missed interview denial rates were even higher among working families and college applicants, affecting as many as 40% of otherwise eligible applicants.

Allan Rodriguez, press secretary for the USDA, said 78% of people eligible for SNAP participated in the program and received benefits from October 2019 to February 2020, the last pre-pandemic period for which data is available.

During the pandemic, as interview and other requirements were relaxed, the USDA encouraged states to use existing program flexibility to increase access to SNAP, for example by using online or telephone SNAP applications or allowing participants to Stay on SNAP without reapplying for the maximum amount of SNAP. allowed time.

According to Ty Jones Cox, vice president for food assistance at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the changes helped keep hunger levels at levels in 2020, rather than rising during the early phase of the pandemic. That’s in contrast to the 2008 recession, when it rose from 11.1 percent to 14.7 percent.

“Hunger was on the verge of rising early in the COVID-19 pandemic, but SNAP structure and policy changes made it easier for families to access SNAP during this time,” she said.

Kimani also says the pandemic has proven that policy change is possible.

“During COVID-19, they allowed people to be automatically recertified to continue their benefits, rather than using an in-person appointment to determine eligibility,” she said. “I wonder why we can’t continue in this way to ensure that people don’t lose benefits.”

In a recent report, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that the interview requirement “can be an important way for states to gather accurate information and for applicants to get their questions answered, but it can be a labor-intensive task and delay approval. .”

Student Advocate President Aaron Ament said too often the organization hears about obstacles students face in scheduling required state SNAP interviews while balancing schoolwork, a job and child care or elder care.


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