The Trump Administration aims to gut public benefits, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to pay for a $1.5 trillion loss in revenue from tax cuts for wealthy Americans and large corporations. The President’s most recent budget proposal would slash federal spending for SNAP by $213 billion by delivering some food benefits through the impractical and humiliating “Harvest Box” program and making SNAP’s strict work requirements even more expansive. For low-income women who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, these cuts to a critical program could be one of the factors keeping them in dangerous circumstances and pulling them into, or keep them in, poverty.
As described in a recent report from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown Law, the intersection of economic insecurity and experiencing sexual assault or domestic violence can make it difficult for individuals, particularly women, trying to escape cycles of violence and poverty. Abuse or assault can trap low-income women living in poverty or in some cases, pull women into poverty. People of color, Native Americans, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants and people with disabilities are uniquely vulnerable to economic instability and poverty, making the impact of domestic violence and sexual assault even more profound.
Escaping an abusive relationship can mean that a survivor loses her source of income, housing, employment, health care or childcare – at the same time that she may face increased costs for medical care, legal remedies and relocation for safety. In turn, many survivors rely on public benefits to help them attain economic independence. As one advocate for survivors of domestic violence observed, “For many survivors, jobs, housing and financial stability can be affected by abusive situations and relationships. Many survivors have the skills and ability to secure jobs, and secure housing, but TANF and SNAP can be invaluable in the interim between leaving an abuser and feeling stable and safe.”
Advocates identify SNAP as a critical resource for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Overall, if counted in the official poverty measure and corrected for underreported benefits, SNAP kept 8.4 million people, including nearly 4 million children, above the poverty line, in 2015. Additionally, SNAP improves health and reduces food insecurity. Of the over 44 million low-income individuals and families receiving SNAP benefits, many are female or female led households who rely on this resource to escape poverty Women with access to SNAP are significantly more likely to complete their education, be employed and have higher earnings and financial success, and they are 34 percent more likely to report good health. For women escaping domestic violence and sexual assault, SNAP can facilitate their economic independence.
President Trump’s budget, if enacted, would limit the benefits survivors receive from SNAP. While survivors currently face some challenges applying for SNAP benefits, the Trump administration wants to make it even harder to access these benefits. In the proposed 2019 budget, the Trump administration seeks to change how SNAP benefits are delivered, and subjecting older individuals to stringent work requirements. The proposed “Harvest Boxes,” which would directly deliver a predetermined amount of canned and boxed foods to SNAP beneficiaries, would be difficult and expensive to administer, make accessing the benefit more difficult for individuals who move frequently or are homeless, and stigmatize people receiving SNAP. Increasing the age of individuals subject to SNAP’s strict work requirements increase the hardship in purchasing food for millions of unemployed adults with low incomes, including older workers and individuals who live in high unemployment areas, who rely on this vital resource. (The House Farm Bill, which is expected to be introduced later this month, also may increase work requirements for parents.) For unemployed women who are survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault, this would present yet another barrier to economic independence.
Cuts to SNAP funding and increasing work requirements would mean low-income women attempting to escape domestic violence or sexual assault may lose access to this critical resource. While elected officials scramble to pay for their tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, low-income women surviving domestic violence and sexual assault will bear the cost.