Last March, DC Councilmember Michael Brown introduced a bill to help significantly more District residents afford to keep food on the table. Aptly titled the Food Stamp Expansion Act, the legislation proposed to both raise the eligibility ceiling for food stamp benefits and increase the dollar value of the benefits many participants could receive.
As its many supporters said, the bill was a timely–and smart–response to the recession.
- More hard-pressed individuals and families would be able to stave off hunger without foregoing other basic necessities.
- Their benefits would be higher not only because the legislation would change the income calculation, but because the economic recovery act included an across-the-board percentage increase for food stamps.
- The additional relief would cost the city virtually nothing because the federal government pays the full cost of food stamps.
- Those extra federal funds would stimulate the local economy, delivering an estimated $1.73 in growth per food stamp dollar.
On June 2, the DC Council approved the bill as part of the District’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget. By then, the D.C. unemployment rate had risen from 9.8% to 10.9%.
Nearly seven months later, the unemployment rate stands at 11.8%. It’s over 28% in Ward 8. And that reflects only people who are actively looking for work.
Yet the Income Maintenance Administration still hasn’t implemented the food stamp program expansion–something it could have done a long time ago without new legislation.
Who knows how many struggling individuals and families haven’t gotten the benefits they’re entitled to? Who knows how many millions of federal dollars have been lost?
I’m told that reprogramming the computers to implement the legislation is a complex business. And, of course, the increasing food stamp caseload is stressing agency resources. But the agency has known for 10 months that it would have to change its system. And it originally said it would have the work completed in October.
Does anyone at IMA feel a sense of urgency about this?