To increase the disability community’s access to nutritious, affordable food, New York State is looking to reform its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
In the United States, people living with disabilities are almost two times more likely to experience food insecurity during the pandemic than people without disabilities, according to a recent report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The New York Office of Temporary Disability Assistance (NY OTDA) is working to improve its SNAP application process in response to the pandemic. Improvements such as narrowing the enrollment application to one sheet and expanding the eligibility period can “reduce the amount of time and effort” for people with disabilities applying for or recertifying their eligibility for SNAP, Anthony Farmer, a spokesperson for the NY OTDA, tells Food Tank.
Further reforms can help people living with disabilities access nutritious food, Michel Nischan, Founder of Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization that advocates for nutrition policy, tells Food Tank. Nischan notes that providing nutrition information and coaching through programs like Foodsmart, as well as increasing Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) for online grocery shopping can remove food access barriers for people with disabilities.
Nischan mentions the importance of SNAP recipients using their benefits to purchase food online for delivery. Before the pandemic, many states’ SNAP did not allow recipients to use their benefits to buy food online. As a result, family members and caregivers of people with disabilities had no choice but to purchase groceries in person, increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19. “The pandemic was initially catastrophic for people living with disabilities,” Nischan tells Food Tank.
In April 2019, New York was the first state to launch the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot with participating grocery retailers. Now all 50 states participate in the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot. In addition to increasing the disability community’s access to groceries, NY OTDA’s SNAP-Ed Nutrition Education Program teaches people how to shop for healthy ingredients and cook healthy meals on a budget.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define a disability as any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for a person to interact with the world around them. Under that umbrella, the CDC estimates that 26 percent, or one in four adults, in the United States live with a disability.
Long COVID, a symptom of COVID-19, is classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Sections 504 and 1557, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Up to 23 million Americans suffer from long COVID, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates.
The GAO also estimates that 1 million people have lost their jobs because of long COVID symptoms. This phenomenon contributes to the pressure to increase access to nutritious food for the disability community.
People with disabilities need “almost 30 percent more income to achieve the same standard of living as people without disabilities,” Dr. Bonnielin K Swenor, Founder and Director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Food Tank. SNAP enrollment can be “inaccessible and cumbersome,” Swenor adds, which limits access to nutritious food for people with disabilities.
To understand barriers to SNAP enrollment, Swenor and Dr. Laura Samuel at The Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center created a SNAP data dashboard. This data dashboard examines all 50 states’ disability inclusivity in the SNAP enrollment process.
The data evaluates the flexibility of SNAP enrollment options, the efficiency of SNAP enrollment, and the accessibility of SNAP websites for the disability community. The data shows “variation across states and room for improvement across most programs,” according to Swenor.
Nationwide, the data finds that only two states offer efficient SNAP enrollment options for people with disabilities. In the other 48 states, SNAP website landing pages did not include eligibility information, links to enrollment forms, large-print PDF enrollment, or a phone number for customer support.
New York is also developing programs that will increase access to food options for the disability community. Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed legislation that would help SNAP recipients who are elderly or living with disabilities use their benefits to purchase hot food—something that was previously not allowed. The legislation mandates the OTDA to apply to the USDA to authorize the program.
“SNAP is one of the most important tools we have to reduce food insecurity,” Farmer tells Food Tank
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Photo courtesy of Eduardo Soares, Unsplash