Hunger in America: How do you eat if you lose your food stamps?
Updated 05:38, 21-Dec-2019
Hendrik Sybrandy

It’s how 52-year-old Philip Dinapoli of Denver spends most of his days: in and around his Volvo automobile.

“I don’t have a home,” Dinapoli said. “I don’t have an address. You know it’s frustrating.”

 He’s been living on the street, this street near downtown, for most of the past three years.

 “It’s difficult, especially with food stamps,” Dinapoli said. “I don’t have a refrigerator. I don’t have storage. So eating is very expensive every day.”

Dinapoli receives around $200 a month electronically for food from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps, which some call the most effective anti-hunger program in the U.S.

“People who are able to eat are healthier and are able to go to work and function better and that helps them contribute to society,” said Andrea Fuller, a SNAP recipient.

Currently able-bodied adults between 18 and 49 years of age without children cannot receive food stamps for more than three months during a three-year period without doing some work unless those time limits are waived in areas experiencing significant economic distress.

But now a new Trump Administration rule will make it tougher for states like Colorado to issue those waivers. This cost-saver for the government, $5.5 billion over five years, will cut food stamps to an estimated 688,000 recipients.

 “I think these new regulations are well overdue,” said Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian Independence Institute. He argued it’s time to scale back the food stamp program, which expanded during and after the Great Recession. He thinks this rule change gives people an incentive to work and the dignity that comes with it.

“If you’re an able-bodied person in a time of record unemployment and you’re not at least training or looking for a job, then you’re a lifer, you want to stay on the dole forever,” Caldara said.

 Not true, say opponents of the new rule who believe it will disproportionately hurt the poor, those without a high school diploma and lacking access to transportation.

“There’s a lot more instability in the job market than there was,” said Sara Lipowitz, a public benefits attorney with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. “And I don’t think it really helps people to take away their food while they’re trying to get more stable and get employment.”

“Because there’s no evidence that taking food assistance away from people actually leads to long-term stable employment,” said Anya Rose, Hunger Free Colorado’s public policy manager. “It just leads to more hunger and hardship.”

And, they add, a greater burden on food banks and health care providers. 

“To hear people say this is somehow hurtful for people, no this is helpful for people,” Caldara said.

Dinapoli, who’s built aircraft and been a computer engineer and actor, insists jobs are hard to come by. His homeless status often scares off potential employers. He wonders why this is a debate at all.

“Over hunger,” Dinapoli said, shaking his head. “Hunger. Really? In our country? Come on, come on. It’s not right.”

He hopes to be off the street when the rule, which could eliminate his food stamps, goes into effect in April.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?”