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Maryland

Thousands of Maryland residents lose food stamps this year

Rachel Baye
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Over the last two months, more than 7,000 unemployed Marylanders have lost their food stamp benefits, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, as a result of a 20-year-old rule linking the program to unemployment rates.

And John Moser Jr. is about to join them. He expects to lose his SNAP benefits Tuesday.

The 46 year old said he has been unemployed since he lost his job as an auto mechanic about nine months ago, and he has been homeless for five years. Lately he has been staying in Middle River with his sister, who he said can’t walk due to a broken hip and is receiving disability benefits.

"I had my sister and her boyfriend take me in, but he now has lung cancer in both lungs," he said. "So now I'm in a dilemma where I can't work because I'm constantly taking care of him, running him to doctors for therapy and for radiation and everything."

He said the SNAP benefits have helped him feed himself off and on for the last six years. When he loses them, he plans to share his sister’s, or find food where he can. And he’s looking for a job that will allow him to continue taking care of his family.

"I’m looking for something possibly at nighttime or something that’s 24 hours where I could work, maybe late at night," he said. "But also I need time to sleep, too."

Moser is losing his benefits as a result of a work requirement tied to SNAP 20 years ago.

Childless, single adults capable of holding a job must spend at least 20 hours a week working or in a qualifying job training program. Otherwise, they can receive food stamps for up to three months over a three-year period.

Most states — Maryland included — qualified for statewide waivers to the requirement during the recession as a result of high unemployment rates.

Ed Bolen, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the waivers were prompted by the realization that the work requirement didn’t make sense in places with high unemployment.

But as unemployment rates dropped, Maryland lost its waiver.

Some jurisdictions, such as Baltimore City, retain the waiver because of stubbornly high unemployment rates.

However, neighboring counties began losing benefits in April. Residents in Frederick and Washington counties could lose benefits as early as July.

“[SNAP]’s purpose is to help people avoid hunger, or what’s called very low food security, and people who are working are just much less likely to be suffering from very low food security,” said Robert Doar, who ran New York City’s food assistance program under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

He said the loss of SNAP benefits serves as motivation to work.

“Eighty percent of Americans feel that if you’re able-bodied, you’re not a senior and you’re not a child, and you can work, that our programs should be strongly encouraging people to get into work, and that’s what this is,” he said.

But Bolen said he has problems with the work requirement. He said people who do shift work may have trouble reaching their 20-hour-a-week requirement, and he suggested the rule allow those who can show they’re applying for jobs to continue receiving benefits.

He also said that the economic improvement seen since the recession ended didn’t help everyone equally.

“For low-wage workers and for workers who have less education and less skill, the recovery was much more anemic and much slower because those jobs, the jobs that they might qualify for, were not returning to the degree that other evidence of an economic recovery was returning,” he said. “For the very poor, folks who have barriers to work like a lack of education or training, it still is remarkably hard for them to find jobs.”

The loss of food benefits can make it more difficult to manage other needs.

Keshia Pollack, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has studied the issue, said losing SNAP can increase risks of diabetes, obesity and heart disease by pushing people to buy more processed foods that are high in sugar and fat and tend to be cheaper.

Eva Hendrix, a case manager at Healthcare for the Homeless in Baltimore, said the loss of food benefits can also affect housing.

“I had a client who said earlier this week that he was unstably housed,” she said. “He paid $100 to stay on a couch, and he gives food stamps to the lady where he stays.”

At the same time, she said many of her clients understand why there’s a work requirement.

Moser, who is about to lose his benefits, said he gets it, too.

“There is a lot of people who take advantage of it,” he said. “But for people who really need it, it’s going to affect them bad.”