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BERKELEY, CA: Researchers from UC Berkeley are calling for an overhaul of the federal food stamps program that would remove barriers preventing millions of people from accessing live-saving benefits.

The new report published Wednesday by Berkeley's Othering & Belonging Institute argues that Clinton-era work requirements and other “welfare reform” efforts have prevented the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from realizing its full potential as an anti-poverty program.

"The notion that work requirements prevent a dependency on government assistance programs hinges on anti-poor and racist stereotypes, and reinforces exposure to prison, poverty, and premature death for non-wealthy people who must work to live,” said Hossein Ayazi, institute researcher and co-author of the "Fighting Poverty with SNAP" report.

"These are problems rooted in the destitute conditions of countless neighborhoods across the country, wherein residents struggle to survive in the face of limited food access, few jobs, poor schools, and environmental hazards that pose serious health risks,” adds Ayazi, who is also a Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies at Williams College.

These issues are particularly pronounced in immigrant communities and communities of color that have faced decades of discriminatory policies in housing that created segregation and prevented wealth accumulation. As a result, these communities are more likely to live in poverty and endure disproportionate burdens during economic downturns than the general population.

Additionally, the researchers want to see SNAP administered at the federal level rather than through counties to cut down on fraud, abuse and to remove the profit-driven corporate middlemen. Banks and corporations, the report notes, skim tens of millions of dollars annually from SNAP by way of fees and penalties which could otherwise be spent on bolstering the program.

As a third policy proposal, the report calls for removing SNAP from the federal Farm Bill, which is broad legislation renewed roughly every five years in Congress to support farming through subsidies. But that means to fund SNAP legislators are also committing billions of dollars to large agribusiness corporations who dominate farming in the US.

Those agribusinesses, the report notes, are themselves in part responsible for the global lack of access to food due to the profit-driven nature of the global food system.

"Divorcing SNAP from the Farm Bill offers a way out of this catch-22 in which to address the hunger crisis at home we're forced to subsidize companies which are helping cause it," said Elsadig Elsheikh, the director of OBI's Global Justice program and the report's second author.

Click here to download a copy of the report.

Media Contact
Marc Abizeid, marcabizeid@berkeley.edu