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Locals brace themselves for Congress' decision on debt ceiling

A deal to raise the debt ceiling still hangs in the balance. Age and work requirements for the supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP could change. KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado has details.<br/>

President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached a tentative deal on the debt ceiling over the weekend that could prevent the nation from defaulting. However, it doesn’t mean it will receive congressional approval.

“There are lawmakers in both parties who don't like this deal because each party is giving something up by it,” said professor of Political Science at UC San Diego, Thad Kousser.

Kousser said a point of contention is food and cash assistance. Most adults ages 18 to 49 must be employed to qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP. If the bill passes, the age requirement will be expanded to 54. But it would also lift the work requirement to qualify for veterans, the unhoused and young people transitioning from foster care.


“Republicans are waiving this limit, that was the leverage that they had to try to extract some large cuts out of (President) Joe Biden, and some feel like they're giving in too cheaply,” he said. “Democrats, especially progressives, are concerned that these work requirement changes don't work, (that) they don't get people back into good paying jobs. And so you're just needlessly harming the poor.”

He said both leaders must convince others in their party that the consequence of voting the bill down is worse than the compromise.

“If there's no deal, the U.S. not being able to pay its debts, not being able to send payments, Social Security, Medicare payments, other really vital payments for the American people and for the world economy, it'll be a disaster,” said Kousser.

Robert Kamensky of Feeding San Diego is worried about the outcome. He said, while the support they get from the government is minimal, this will trickle down to people living on the edge. He said they’re already stretched thin; inflation has doubled some of their costs.

“Prior to this past year, it was about $4,000 to $4,500 to have the labor covered for the pick pack, and then the transportation cost ... that would give us 40,000 pounds of produce — that’s now $8,000,” he said and added that their fuel bill went from $87,000 two years ago and is now $280,000.


And they’re seeing an increase in demand.

“It started in the mid-80,000 household range in January. (Then) last month, we were at 94,000 households being served, so it's been a steady uptick in numbers of households seeking assistance,” said Kamensky.

He said big donors are reluctant to give as much during uncertain times, so their donations are down 25% overall; steady, small donors have been affected the most.

“(They are) the ones who give $15 to $20 a month — they do it religiously … these are the ones who were the most negatively impacted where they're having to reluctantly say 'I can no longer give,'” he said.

He said their organization supplements people’s food supplies and fills a gap but lower donations and higher costs are taking a toll.

“The gap size that we can fill continues to shrink because we just can't get more food into the distribution due to limited resources coming to us,” he said.

He also says that anytime there’s a new requirement, more people end up in their lines, often those who qualify for the benefit.

“Generally, with additional rules or regulations that come into play that may either enhance or limit access to government benefits, it can be a barrier to people who do not know how to navigate the bureaucracies that accompany those rules and regulations, and it may negatively impact those people who may be eligible but unable to navigate getting those resources made available to them,” he said. “But for those who do not get that type of administrative help, their recourse is to come to hunger relief organizations like Feeding San Diego.”

He said their program offers more than food; it gives them hope.

“When you talk about something as fundamental as food, food brings people together, it nourishes not just literally for your body, but it nourishes a sense of community,” Kamensky said.

He said San Diegans always come together to help out their neighbors, and the donations you least expect offers the most hope.

“An unsheltered, homeless individual who had heard about what Feeding San Diego was doing and generously gave what little he had, which was a $10 bill (and said) there are people who are worse off than me.”

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