For the past three years, the whole world has been trying to adapt to a new way of life. The Coronavirus pandemic has created lasting impacts on every aspect of our lives, from surging unemployment rates and changes within our healthcare system to catapulting the economic fallout we are currently experiencing. While COVID-19 rates are steadily decreasing, there has been an increase in concern focused on housing and food for lower-income families in Washington state. Historically, low-income groups are the ones that are affected disproportionately, and systematic oppression has created a cycle such that whenever a crisis hits, those who are less privileged get hit the hardest.
During the pandemic, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted emergency allotments to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also referred to as ‘food stamps.’ Over 30 million households received the extra support they needed to survive for the past two years. This additional allowance, which gave an extra $171 per month on average, had become a lifeline for many low-income families, becoming the determining budget of whether they were able to afford to eat that month or not.
Yet, on March 1, 2023, over 520,000 households in Washington state stopped receiving these additional emergency allotments. All of us have been trying to recover a semblance of our lives from before the pandemic or to simply ‘move on’ from the pandemic; however, the reality is that the aftermath of the pandemic is still affecting the day-to-day lives of many. It is unfair to return to normalcy when the groups that need help the most are still struggling with the fallout from the pandemic.
Babs Roberts, the director of the Community Services Division at the Department of Social and Health Services, says, “Not having these additional emergency benefits at hand right now will be very impactful to families and individuals, and we’re very concerned about that.”
According to the USDA, food prices have been increasing steadily, with grocery store prices predicted to increase 6.6 percent in 2023. Although the reduced SNAP funds are being adjusted for the present cost of living, is it truly acceptable for us to cut the emergency funds now and shift our focus onto long-term recovery methods if the most vulnerable are still struggling to make ends meet?
Furthermore, a recent survey taken by Washington’s Department of Commerce shows that housing costs, rent and homelessness are top concerns within the state. “76 percent of respondents said they were directly impacted or knew someone directly impacted by the cost and availability of housing, and 49 percent said it was difficult or very difficult to find affordable housing,” reports the Department of Commerce. Added on to the cut of the additional funds, SNAP recipients who are already struggling to afford rent will have to find solutions to put more money on the table for both the increasing rent prices and food, which can only amplify the food and housing insecurity crisis.
Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” It is a fundamental human right for all that everyone has a secure source of food and housing, especially in uncontrollable circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as during the repercussions that followed the pandemic. It’s unsettling that those who still need the extra allotment of money in these trying times will now go without it, which will only exasperate the ongoing struggles low-income families go through in Washington.
For Bellevue College students who may be affected due to the recent increase in the cost of living or the recent cut of SNAP emergency funds, United Way of King County’s Benefits Hub may be able to provide assistance. Students in need of housing assistance can apply for access funds, emergency housing and other support like rent assistance. The Benefits Hub also offers local food pantry resources along with BC’s very own food pantry, the Brutus Food Pantry, in U217 in the U-Building. The Benefits Hub also offers assistance in signing up for SNAP or the Women, Infants, and Children Nutritional Program.
Emergency financial assistance is also available in the form of the Student Emergency Assistance Funds to BC students who are at risk of experiencing homelessness or have any unforeseen emergencies that may impact their abilities to attend class. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further questions or concerns.
To apply or find out if you are eligible for any of the aforementioned programs and funds, make an appointment with the Benefits Hub.