REVOKED: Just When Things Were Getting Better, I Lost My SNAP Benefits
Jefferson was only 17 years old when he left Rikers Island correctional facility. Upon his release, he lived in a homeless shelter with his children, a situation that lasted for nearly six months. Jefferson’s cousin, an independent contractor, would hire him for construction work whenever there were openings on his crew, but the work was only part-time and intermittent.
Eventually, Jefferson’s probation officer referred him to Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), and right away he began working with a maintenance crew assigned to various New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) sites around the city. Jefferson currently works as a porter at CEO’s Bronx office in New York City, the same borough where he has lived for his entire life.
Jefferson says that one of his greatest resources after incarceration was New York’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food assistance for nearly 1.8 million low-income New Yorkers, including families. With SNAP benefits, Jefferson was able to purchase food for himself and his family. The New York supplemental income assistance also allowed him to rent his very first apartment, providing housing relief for his family as well.
“Life was hard after incarceration,” Jefferson says. “I honestly don’t know what I would have done without SNAP. It really helped me.”
In fact, SNAP assistance is an essential source of support for returning citizens across the country. More than 600,000 individuals return home from prison each year in the United States, almost half are unable to secure full-time employment in the first few years after leaving incarceration. Of those who do find full-time employment, half earn less than $10,000 annually.
However, for all its usefulness as a large-scale supplemental assistance program, there is a key flaw in the SNAP program that Jefferson experienced. The challenge is the inverse relationship between SNAP and employment, because once wages increase, the assistance is not available. Beating the odds by attaining full-time employment is effectively punished, because at the point of full-time employment status, benefits are fully revoked.
That’s not the only problem. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, all interactions are handled over the phone, which means that sometimes it can be time-consuming and problematic for recipients when they are trying to resolve issues. There are also hurdles accessing child care assistance. Jefferson explains that for many individuals leaving incarceration, this is a major hurdle because for someone to receive child care assistance, such as daycare, they must first be employed, but he points out that for someone to seek employment, they first need daycare assistance.
Jefferson believes the current configuration of the SNAP program is setting thousands of justice-impacted individuals up for failure during the critical reentry period when they face tremendous barriers to reintegration with families and communities.
“Living in New York City is so expensive,” Jefferson adds. “Once your SNAP benefits are revoked, it can be almost impossible to survive.”
CEO and our participants advocate for the removal of barriers to employment, including ensuring individuals have access to SNAP and SNAP Employment & Training during training. To learn more about CEO’s policy advocacy, visit https://ceoworks.org/policy-advocacy