The Food Research Action Center (FRAC) hosted a webinar on September 11, 2023, about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) entitled “Foster Youth, Unhoused, and Veterans Now Temporarily Exempt from Time Limits”. The four panelists discussed the three groups that will no longer be affected by SNAP time limits starting this month, and the best ways to work with them and get them access to the benefits they are eligible to receive. Able-bodied adults without dependents between the ages of 18 and 50 who are eligible for SNAP benefits can only receive those benefits for three months out of every three year pay period, unless they can prove membership in one of the exempt groups. In September 2023, some temporary exemptions from the time limits for veterans, unhoused individuals, and young adults from foster care system will go into effect.

Julie McCormack from the Harvard Legal Services Center explained the impacts of food insecurity on veterans, as well as the barriers some of these individuals are faced with in accessing benefits. Of those veterans eligible, approximately a third receive SNAP benefits. Many are unaware they are eligible, may not self- identify as veterans, or are deterred from applying for assistance because military culture is one rooted in self-sufficiency and strength. Maydee Morales from the Worcester Community Action Center presented on SNAP time limit exemptions for the unhoused. Many unhoused individuals struggle to get employment because they don’t have access to the right documents and don’t have a home address to put on applications, and they run into the same issue when applying for benefits. Even if they are aware of the options available to them, they may not have the materials they need to gain access to those resources.

Jennifer Pokempner from the Youth Law Center and Steven Olender from Think of Us turned the conversation to youth transitioning out of foster care. Nearly 20,000 young adults aged out of the foster care system in 2021, and more than half of them did so without being connected to family. Most people between the ages of 18 and 25 continue to rely on parents, family, or other older adults while they get an education, a job, and learn how to live on their own and manage their finances. It is a critical time of development in a person’s life, and the young people transitioning out of foster care don’t have the same kind of support, as it is difficult to make lasting connections while in the foster care system. Food assistance programs help relieve some of the stress by ensuring that these individuals have access to food. Any person who is currently under the age of 25 and has spent time in care between the ages of 18 to 25 is eligible for the SNAP time limit exemption. Many of the eligible individuals are unaware of the fact that they qualify, or may not self-identify as a transition age youth, making it hard to identify which benefits they are eligible to receive.

For all of those reasons, the panelists believe that it is imperative that individuals who work with these populations get the training necessary to allow them to properly identify who is eligible for time limit exemptions, and that eligible populations get the education they need to understand their options. To quote one of the presenters, “SNAP is our nation’s defense against hunger,” but it only serves that purpose if the people who need it can access those resources.

By Rebekah Lawatsch, Policy Intern