As SNAP Benefits Change, The ARK is a Safety Net

by Marc Swatez, Executive Director, The ARK

Providing food for Jewish individuals and families in need is a core part of The ARK’s mission. Our food pantry serves over 9,000 meals to over 2,600 people every year and provides relief when other sources of financial assistance don’t go far enough. And for many of our clients, one of these sources of aid is about to disappear. In December, the US Department of Agriculture announced changes in the eligibility requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits, commonly known as “Food Stamps.” The Federal Government has limited the right of the states to waive work requirements for able-bodied adults between the Ages of 18 and 49. These recipients would now be required to work in order to receive SNAP benefits, unless they live in a county where unemployment is greater than 6%. The unemployment rate in Cook County is around 4%.  This change will affect over 700,000 people nationwide, and approximately 50,000 people in Cook County.

While the intention behind this rule change is to encourage people to find work, the reality does not account for all the different factors that may make it difficult or impossible. These factors include poor health, caretaker responsibilities, transportation issues, and more.  The SNAP cuts could also adversely affect clients who have struggled with addiction or psychological issues. The increased work requirement places an added financial burden on social services agencies like The ARK, which will see increased demand for the food pantry, as well as for employment services. For many SNAP recipients, we act as a safety net for the safety net. The ARK will continue to provide meals free of charge to help these clients offset the lost benefits from the new law. Whenever a Jewish person in Chicago is in need of assistance, The ARK will continue to provide it.