A new report says the pandemic crisis has led to more “food insecurity” among poor Arkansans.

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families estimates that some 150,000 more Arkansas people face food shortages and state policies contribute to their problem.

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The advocacy group calls on government to eliminate policies that contribute to rising hunger.

For example, Arkansas is one of only 10 states with an “asset limit” that prevents families with even modest savings accounts from becoming eligible for SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Regardless of household size, Arkansas’s families are automatically ineligible if they have more than $2,250 in the bank ($3,500 if the household includes someone with a disability or someone 60 or older). Most states have no such asset limit, and many others have raised the limit so families can save more for emergencies.

While Arkansas lifted many of the barriers to SNAP enrollment when the pandemic started, the asset limit remains in place because it would take legislation to change it.

“As a relatively poor state, we shouldn’t be adding to the burden of food insecurity for Arkansans in the middle of a pandemic,” said Laura Kellams, AACF’s Northwest Arkansas Director and the author of the report. “These state policies are unnecessary and put us at a disadvantage, now and during the economic recovery to come.”

The report also seeks reversal of a 2017 law that prohibited the state from participating in a federal program for enhanced support.

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The state law requires that the SNAP asset limit be kept at the lowest level allowed under federal law. AACF also recommends removing compliance with the Child Support Enforcement program as a condition of SNAP eligibility, which takes away food benefits from children and parents – even if they’re owed child support. The latter requirement has been temporarily lifted during the health emergency.

The crisis has increased the number of people eligible for SNAP (known colloquially as food stamps). The number enrolled has risen by 27 percent, from 318,000 to 404,000 at the end of June.  Feeding America estates that food insecurity has increased by about 39 percent, meaning about 150,000 more Arkansas people lack consistent access to enough food.

The publication also outlines changes to SNAP since the pandemic began, including a state-reported 27 percent increase in enrollment since February. The Arkansas Department of Human Services reports that about 318,000 people were enrolled in SNAP before the pandemic began, compared to about 404,000 at the end of June. Meanwhile, Feeding America estimates that the food insecurity rate increased by about 39 percent during the same period, or that about 150,000 more Arkansans now lack consistent access to enough food for everyone in the family to live active, healthy lives.

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AACF will have a forum on the report from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. today. You can watch it on their Facebook page.