Budget Hearing Testimony of Hannah Francis, Food Security and Health Program Coordinator, before the Committee on Housing

March 31, 2023
Person Testifying: Hannah Francis
Title: Food Security and Health Program Coordinator,
Testimony Heard By: DC Council Committee on Housing
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing
Topic of Testimony: Budget Oversight Hearing for the Department of Human Services

Hello, Chairperson White and members of the Committee on Housing. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee as it reviews the proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget for the Department of Human Services.

My name is Hannah Francis. I am the Food Security and Health Program Coordinator for DC Action. DC Action uses research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change, and we work in partnership with the Fair Budget Coalition for an equitable DC.

Today, I speak to the necessity that the Committee fund Give SNAP a Raise by adding $53 million to the budget.

In the District, SNAP is one of the most critical tools to address food insecurity and simultaneously counter ongoing racial inequities in health. Even with SNAP, however, food insecurity and hunger persist in our city. One in five District households with children report not having enough to eat over the course of a month. Because of deep and continuous discrimination and systematic racism, Black and brown families are far more likely to be food insecure, as the negligible rate of food insecurity in white families drives down the District’s average rates.

As SNAP is a federal program, eligibility restrictions and benefit allotments are determined by the federal poverty level. For a family of three, the cut-off for benefits is $29,940 in annual gross income to receive the minimum allotment. But DC has one of the highest costs of living of any city in the country, with an average household cost of $18,000 per year in housing expenses alone. To make matters worse, inflation is hitting grocery shoppers particularly hard, as food prices have increased 12% in the past year, which is the largest single-year increase since the 70s. Inflation rates for fruits and vegetables are twice that of shelf-stable and junk foods.

In order to interrupt the cycle of intergenerational food insecurity and end hunger in the nation’s capital, we ask the DC Council to fund the Give SNAP a Raise Amendment Act of 2022 with continuous and sustainable funding. The legislation introduced by Councilmember Henderson would increase the minimum benefit from a flat rate of $30 to 15% of the federal eligible maximum allotment. This new minimum benefit would also be adjusted annually with inflation, with this year’s SNAP benefits increased by approximately 11%. This increase would offset some of the impacts of higher grocery costs and would help our neighbors choose foods that are healthier for them and their children, rather than what is cheapest to get them through the month.

By funding Give SNAP a Raise, we are both alleviating the immediate burden of food insecurity and investing in long-term infrastructure. SNAP is approximately nine times more efficient than food banks or other food assistance efforts at getting food on people’s plates. Beyond alleviating day-to-day hunger, every dollar of SNAP benefits generates double local economic activity and helps sustain grocery stores in high-utilization areas. Further, SNAP is an especially critical tool to end intergenerational food insecurity. Children who receive SNAP are 18% more likely to graduate high school and 24% more likely to achieve third-grade literacy goals than those in similarly disadvantaged households. People who had access to SNAP as children also report increased income and a staggering decrease in food insecurity and obesity as adults. If the Council is dedicated to decreasing health inequities, increasing food access, and stimulating economic development, it must commit to fully funding Give SNAP a Raise. Thank you so much for your time, I welcome any questions.