Testimony of Rachel Metz, Research and Data Manager, before the Committee on Human Services

DC Action Public Testimony Logo
March 1, 2021
Testimony
Person Testifying: Rachel Metz
Title: Research and Data Manager , DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Department of Human Services
Type of Hearing: Performance Oversight Hearing Fiscal Year 2021

Good morning, Councilmember Nadeau and members of the Committee on Human Services. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it reviews the Fiscal Year 2021 performance of the Department of Human Services. I am Rachel Metz, Research and Data Manager of 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. 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 want to thank DHS for its fast commitment to ensuring that DC residents who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and other public benefits provided by DHS were able to continue receiving benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic without taking further action, as well as for implementing an online application form for DC residents newly in need of the program, enabling online shopping as an option, and implementing P-EBT. We thank the DC Council and Mayor Bowser for the commitment to meeting this clear need.

In DC, SNAP is one tool among many to help counter the effects of historic and ongoing racial inequity. Consistently throughout the pandemic, one in ten adults in District households with children said that they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food that week. Some weeks, more than one in four adults in District households with children struggled with getting enough food. For Black families the situation was even worse, with 41% reporting insufficient food some weeks during the pandemic.

Even worse, there’s reason to be concerned that children who could benefit from SNAP may not be participating in the program. While (using the most recent pre-pandemic publicly available data) the District is one of the top states when it comes to what percentage of eligible residents participate in SNAP, the number of children participating decreased by almost a third from 2013 to 2018 (from 53,000 to 37,000). 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. Streamline access

The District should continue to streamline the application process for family supports during the pandemic, such as keeping online applications and the option of telephonic signatures. Anticipating that the need for public health and nutrition programs will continue even after the pandemic ends, the District should fund more customer service staffing than prior to the pandemic.

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

Analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities of 2018 SNAP Quality Control Characteristics data showed that nationally only a fraction of SNAP households claimed deductions. 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.

  1. Maximize program flexibility

During the pandemic changes were made to program operations that, if continued to the greatest degree allowable by federal policy, would increase accessibility and lower barriers to families getting needed support. For example, continue to allow online purchases for SNAP.

  1. Understand and respond to the challenges facing families

As the crisis continues and new federal guidance is published on how to expand the pandemic economic benefit transfer (P-EBT) to younger children, the District must consult with eligible families and advocacy organizations such as DC Hunger Solutions to make the new round of P-EBT as accessible as possible

Moving forward, the District should also explore the pre-pandemic drop in child enrollment to better understand its causes in order to address barriers that may be keeping children from getting needed support.

  1. Leverage data to connect families to programs

District leaders should improve its 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 to WIC and vice versa.