Testimony of Hannah Francis, Program Coordinator before the Committee on Human Services

February 24, 2022
Person Testifying: Hannah Francis
Title: Program Coordinator, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee on Human Services
Type of Hearing: Performance Oversight Hearing

Hello, Councilmember Nadeau and members of the Committee on Human Services. Thank you for the opportunity to address the DC Council as it reviews the Fiscal Year 2022 performance of the Department of Human Services. My name is Hannah Francis, I am the Program Coordinator for DC Action. My pronouns are she/her/hers.

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. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

Chair Nadeau, we first want to thank our partners at DC Hunger Solutions for their leadership in advocacy; and thank DHS for committing to rolling out the first phase of the SNAP Elderly Simplified Application Project in April, which is veryhelpful for grandparent caregivers, as well as continuing to apply for SNAP Emergency Allotments.

In the District, SNAP is one tool among many to help address food insecurity and simultaneously counter ongoing racial inequities in health. While levels of food insecurity have fluctuated over the course of the pandemic, recently – from December 29, 2021 to January 10, 2022 – nearly one in five District households with children said that they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat. Due to the legacy of discrimination and racism, Black and Latinx families are far more likely to have to contend with food insecurity, with the negligible rate for white families driving down the District’s average rates. The pandemic has increased the challenges for families: over 140,000 residents currently receive benefits, which is a near 50% increase from January 2020.

Even worse, there’s reason to be concerned that children who could benefit from SNAP may not be participating in the program: the number of District children participating in SNAP decreased by almost a third from 2013 to 2019 (from 53,000 to 37,000). Our partners at the Capital Area Food Bank report that over 69% of families newly food insecure from January 2020 have children in the home. There are policies and strategies the District could employ to ensure families receive the benefits they need, and to enhance the agency’s ability to reach and retain District families with low incomes and link them to much needed assistance. Below are a few strategies that DHS could try to broaden its reach to eligible families.

  1. Give SNAP a Raise

The District should move to pass the “Give SNAP a Raise Amendment Act of 2021” that was introduced by Councilmember Christina Henderson on December 21, 2021. This would move to increase all local SNAP benefits to the level of the Low-Cost Food, plan which is more in line with what low- and moderate-income families in the District report that they need to spend on food, which is much higher than the national average that the USDA bases its Thrifty Food Plan on. As the bill notes, the increase in benefits allows for families to have greater food variety and choices to support a healthier diet, and is linked to decreasing child poverty and increasing students’ performance in school. Further, this will help mitigate the benefits cliff that households receiving SNAP will experience when the emergency allotments end.

  1. Improve staffing and administrative capacity

The District should continue necessary efforts to make the application process for family supports (including but not limited to SNAP) more accessible that were begun during the pandemic, such as keeping online applications and the option of the District Direct mobile app. This process is still imperfect, however. Community members sometimes seek out support from community-based organizations when they do not hear back from DHS, only to discover that a document did not upload correctly, additional documentation is needed, or other issues–which are fixable if there is clear communication–have delayed their applications. This would require providing applicants with a confirmation number or receipt when they submit materials. If this is a capacity issue we recommend increasing the number of full-time employees to address it.

  1. Ensure that applicants qualify for all deductions for which they are eligible

Analysis of 2018 SNAP Quality Control Characteristics data, done by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, showed that nationally only a fraction of SNAP households claimed deductions on their SNAP applications. If families do not get credit for all the deductions for which they’re eligible, they lose out on money to put food on the table. A brief estimate based on the DHS website shows that correctly calculating deductions can be the difference in over a hundred dollars in what a family receives monthly.

  1. Leverage data to connect families to programs

District leaders should improve the interdepartmental data systems so families who are enrolled in one program can easily apply for others for which they’re eligible. The Early Childhood Integrated Data System (ECIDS) that has been discussed for many years, for example, would forge a strong connection between families on SNAP, WIC, and the child care subsidy program.