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What happens when the people who deliver life-saving benefits need help?

Rep. Jahana Hayes thanks AFSCME member Sheryl Feducia for explaining why SNAP shouldn’t be privatized. Photo: Renee Hammel/Council 4
What happens when the people who deliver life-saving benefits need help?
By Pete Levine ·

The public service workers who deliver SNAP benefits to families in need perform a life-saving role. They help low-income Americans put food on the table and get proper nutrition.

AFSCME members like Sheryl Feducia (Local 714/Council 4), who work for the Connecticut Department of Social Services, and state and county eligibility workers in more than a dozen states, educate those in need about how to apply for and receive crucial SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

It’s a job that requires expertise and empathy.

But Feducia and many other AFSCME members who work in SNAP programs across the country and in Puerto Rico are threatened by legislation that could privatize their jobs. What’s more, recent changes to SNAP would make doing their jobs more onerous and make delivering SNAP benefits more difficult, leading to increased hunger for those in need.

What vulnerable Americans really need are more SNAP staff, more program flexibility and a greater investment in a merit-based professional workforce – an investment that could come through reauthorizing the farm bill.

“We are seeing a huge loss of experienced [Department of Social Services] workers retiring and a shortage of workers,” Feducia said recently in a congressional roundtable discussion in Farmington, Connecticut. “This is putting a strain on delivering SNAP assistance so low-income people do not go hungry.”

Led by Reps. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the roundtable focused on the need to shield SNAP from cuts and protect merit staffing requirements.

Feducia explained how much time and care goes into studying and completing cases so families in need receive SNAP benefits, and how seriously eligibility workers like her take their jobs.

“SNAP is a complex program that requires seasoned staff,” said Feducia. “It takes a lot of time to learn the job and to know how to study a case, problem-solve and apply policies and procedures – which change regularly. Every staff member has the responsibility to be the best they can be and take ownership of the job. Taxpayers pay our salaries.”

Feducia warned that privatizing jobs like hers would result in a less efficient and less compassionate system, staffed by workers who are not as skilled in helping vulnerable families navigate a complex system.

A merit-based workforce, Feducia said, would ensure that eligibility decisions are more thorough and are protected from profit motives. “We need to maintain the integrity of the system,” she said.

In addition to providing SNAP eligibility workers with the funding they deserve and fighting attempts to privatize their jobs, AFSCME is also urging Congress to add provisions supporting a strong farm bill. That includes giving Puerto Rico and U.S. territories full access to the SNAP program, rather than through a block grant, as well as blocking proposals to increase so-called work requirements that would weaken SNAP.

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