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Safeguarding Public Benefits Is Good For America

Public programs that pave the road into the middle class are an investment in our country’s greatest asset—its people. As LISC and other organizations weigh in on the USDA’s proposed rule changes to the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program, Maurice A. Jones, LISC’s president and CEO, discusses the imperative of protecting federal assistance that helps catalyze financial stability for our country’s most vulnerable residents—and boosts the health of our economy.

As a non-profit organization committed to revitalizing communities and connecting people with opportunity, LISC knows that we must make investments in people as well as places to fulfill our mission. We also know that a strong partnership with the public sector is vital, and that federal programs and benefits have been at the foundation of our work since our inception 40 years ago. We are concerned that recent activities proposed or undertaken by the federal government will undermine the gains that have been made. Public programs that pave the road into the middle class are an investment in our country’s greatest asset—its people. And we stand firmly by the knowledge that through supporting the nation’s talent, we can fuel a competitive economy that benefits all Americans.

Today, LISC and many other organizations commented on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Proposed Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program proposed rule, which would prevent working families and others to access food assistance. This proposal is estimated to reduce food assistance for a staggering 3.1 million people.

It is similar to other Administration actions aimed at reducing the ability of households of limited means to access income supports via public benefit programs—resources to which individuals and families are legally entitled and need to improve their livelihoods. We first saw this in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Public Charge proposed rule, which discourages immigrants from accessing federal housing, food, health and income programs because DHS will now use this information when considering an immigration action. The families affected by this rule have come here legally, are on a pathway towards citizenship and are trying to secure a better life. 

We stand firmly by the knowledge that through supporting the nation’s talent, we can fuel a competitive economy that benefits all Americans.

We’ve also seen it in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) mixed status families proposed rule, which would prohibit any federal housing assistance to a family if one member is not eligible, even though ineligible members are already barred from the subsidy calculation. HUD itself estimates that this will rule will cause over 55,000 American children to be evicted from subsidized housing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture intends to release a similar proposed rule for their rural rental assistance program.

Finally, HUD will be releasing a proposed Equal Access rule that would provide operators of homeless shelters the right to turn away LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness. HUD is moving forward even though we know that rates of homelessness are especially high for LGBTQ youth.

The common denominator of all these actions is that they restrict legally available public supports for our most vulnerable populations, contrary to the intent of Congress. They lessen our nation’s investments in emerging talent, and hinder people’s ability to sustain their families and achieve their economic goals.

We have already seen the ramifications of these actions and their impact on the work of helping families build financial stability. LISC recently published a report documenting how community organizations, while doing their best to support the vulnerable populations they serve, are struggling to make up for the loss of governmental assistance. Other research has shown how the Administration’s regulatory proposals, while not yet finalized, have already had a chilling effect, prompting people to drop their enrollment in public benefits out of fear.

Our experience has taught us that when public, private and non-profit sectors all work together, we can catalyze opportunity for people who have fallen through the cracks of our economy. Indeed, there are many proven strategies for making this work. LISC’s Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs), for example, have shown that food, housing, and other income supports provide a platform for stable and gainful employment. Other models include adequate investments in schools, job training and financial counseling, to name a few. The federal programs that promote families’ self-sufficiency goals through programs like these should be expanded, not retrenched.

Which is why LISC is encouraging the Administration to withdraw proposed rules that bar people from grasping economic opportunities and instead focus on improving public benefit programs through adequate resources from Congress. Together with our partners, we will continue to push to ensure that federal agencies use their authority and wherewithal to promote opportunity and stability for every resident—most especially, for those who have yet to share in our nation’s abundant prosperity.

Maurice JonesMaurice A. Jones, President & CEO, LISC
Prior to joining LISC, Maurice was the Secretary of Commerce for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he managed 13 state agencies focused on the economic needs in his native state. Before that, he was second in command at the U.S. Dept. of HUD, serving as deputy secretary in charge of operations. He has also been Commissioner of Virginia’s Dept. of Social Services and Deputy Chief of Staff to then-Gov. Mark Warner. At the U.S. Treasury Dept. during the Clinton Administration, he managed the CDFI fund. His private sector experience includes top positions at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, a Richmond law firm and a private philanthropy investing in community-based efforts to benefit children in Washington, D.C.

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