The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a vital program for more than 40 million Americans, including 10 million low-income Latinos, who struggle to put food on the table every day.
But just a few months ago, this program was under attack when the House took up passage of the farm bill, a sweeping agriculture bill that includes funding for the program.
Thanks to the work of concerned citizens and dedicated advocates we were able to get a win for working families last December, as a bipartisan agreement worked to protect SNAP for millions. But another threat looms in the proposed changes to the public charge rule.
Public charge is a term used in immigration law to refer to a person who is primarily dependent on the government to meet basic needs. The Trump administration wants to dramatically expand the definition of public charge to include more programs that families use when they fall on hard times—including SNAP.
“For public charge decisions made in the United States, nothing has changed yet,” said Lanette Garcia, a former Health Policy Analyst with UnidosUS who gave a presentation on health policy challenges in one of the sessions held earlier this month at a convening of UnidosUS Comprando Rico y Sano subgrantees.
In the interim, Garcia encouraged the audience to stay in touch with UnidosUS and to speak with members of their communities to make sure that they’re aware of what public charge is and how it could potentially affect them.
“What I’ve mostly heard when we talk about SNAP is fear.”
A key component of the Comprando Rico y Sano program is enrolling eligible families in SNAP. However, due to the proposals by the Trump administration, community-based organizations are facing new challenges.
“During the charlas, what I’ve mostly heard when we talk about SNAP is fear,” said Veronica Bonilla, Promotora de Salud from Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, an UnidosUS Affiliate in Chicago.
She added that even when they explain that the changes to public charge are a proposal and not a new law, that there’s till a lot of misinformation that goes around the community. “It’s almost like a game of telephone,” she added.
Luz Sauceda, Promotora de Salud/Health Educator from El Concilio, an UnidosUS Affiliate in California, echoed Veronica’s words. “A major challenge that we’ve faced with SNAP is fear. The fear of receiving SNAP and then having it affect their immigration status.”
She also noted that many families have called El Concilio to ask what they should do and how they’re going to be able to feed their children because of the proposed changes under the public charge rule.
Luz mentioned that one mother had even called to ask if it was possible for her to disenroll from SNAP so that she wouldn’t put her citizenship application in jeopardy.
Reniery España, Nutrition/Immunization Coordinator at Latino Community Development Agency, an UnidosUS Affiliate in Oklahoma City, explained that many of the families that the agency serves have been worried since the public charge proposal was released.
“They were afraid and didn’t want to apply,” España said. He added that many of the families that he worked with were concerned about how they would be able to feed their children without the benefits,
“It worries them a lot because they think it will affect their future,” he said.
Anabel Barron, Adult Supportive Service Case Worker at UnidosUS Affiliate El Centro de Servicios Sociales in Lorain, Ohio, mentioned that one of the biggest challenges that her clients have faced with SNAP isn’t necessarily fear, but the rate at which applications are being reviewed and approved.
“They’re taking more than 90 days to approve an application,” she explained, adding that in Ohio, applications for SNAP aren’t supposed to take more than 90 days.
“I have a client that’s been waiting for nine months. And this is a family of undocumented parents who have U.S. citizen children. So, I have tried to call the director, the social workers, I mean, you name it, I’ve tried. I’ve gone to the office in person, and no one’s been able to give me an answer.”
Liliana Ramirez, Promotora de Salud from UnidosUS Affiliate Hispanic Services Council in Tampa, Florida, mentioned that the families her organization works with have been overwhelmed with worry.
“Our clients are very worried about public charge and they don’t necessarily have all of the correct information about it,” Ramirez explained.
She added that when families apply for benefits, they have to go to the agency and present identification, which also made them worried. “They don’t want to show up in person.”
This worry has been so intense that families haven’t wanted to apply for benefits, even when they’re eligible to do so.
Diana Rosado, Program Coordinator from UnidosUS Affiliate Clinic for Education, Treatment and Prevention of Addiction, Inc. (CETPA), in Norcross, Georgia, described some of the difficulties that the organization has encountered, such as family separations.
“Georgia is not a friendly state to immigrants and police officers can act as ICE officials,” Rosado explained. “We’ve seen firsthand families that are being divided because of deportations.”
The Trump administration’s public charge proposal has also been difficult for the organization, as the families they’ve worked with have become increasingly fearful.
“The proposal for public charge…puts another layer, another burden. It adds more fear to the families. They believe if ‘they’ know they’re applying for Medicaid, for food stamps, they will be caught, they will be deported,” Rosado added.
Even though the changes to public charge are still in the proposal phase, that hasn’t done much to lessen families’ fear or convince them to sign up for benefits when they or their families are eligible. “Even though I need it, I want it…and my children are eligible, I don’t want it because they will find me,” Rosado said to describe a common reaction she’s heard to signing up for SNAP benefits in the wake of the public charge proposal.
Maria Cox, Program Coordinator from UnidosUS Affiliate The Concilio in Dallas, Texas, described the worry and the fear that she’s seen from families in her community.
“What I’ve heard in my community for the past eight months is fear,” Cox explained, adding that fear has been a common response no matter where she goes in the community.
“I’ve had people tell me personally that they don’t want to apply because they’re afraid immigration will go to their house,” she added. “If they’ve received benefits in the past, they don’t want to apply.”
In lieu of receiving SNAP benefits, many eligible families that her organization works with have been relying on church food banks to make sure that their kids have enough to eat.
“The fear is preventing them from applying,” she concluded.
UnidosUS will continue to advocate for the health and well-being of Latino families
Even though the public charge proposal is still a proposal, it’s clear that families are afraid of enrolling in SNAP, even when they’re eligible. UnidosUS, our Affiliates and partners will continue to work so that our community stands the best chance of living healthy lives.
By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
Comprando Rico y Sano is possible thanks to support from the Walmart Foundation.