Sep 1, 2023 - News

Arkansas nonprofit advocates for SNAP eligibility for Marshallese

Illustration of a padlock as a bag of groceries

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is calling on Congress to make Marshall Islanders eligible for SNAP benefits.

The big picture: NWA has the largest population of Marshallese outside the Marshall Islands.

Background: The U.S. conducted nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands in the 1940s and 50s that caused biological and ecological harm.

  • The U.S. now has an agreement that allows Marshallese to travel freely between the countries and, if they choose, to legally live in the U.S.

What they're saying: In a new report, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families argues that Marshallese immigrants are unfairly kept from receiving SNAP benefits, as the U.S. allows eligibility for lawfully admitted permanent residents, refugees, asylees and immigrants from certain countries.

Threat level: Poverty and hunger among Pacific Islanders is disproportionately high. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Marshallese people in the U.S. had a food-insecurity rate of 80%, compared to 15% for all Americans. And the U.S. can expect to see its Marshallese population grow.

What they're saying: "With a lack of good jobs, some islands unsafe to inhabit and a partially contaminated food supply, there's already ample reason for Marshallese citizens to migrate to the United States to work and raise a family," the report reads.

  • "But we'll likely see more migration in the coming years. The reason: climate change. With rising sea levels, Marshallese migrants are some of the world's first climate refugees."

What's next… The nonprofit's suggestions include:

  • Changing federal law to allow for SNAP eligibility (Congress in 2020 granted Medicaid eligibility to Marshall Islanders).
  • Outreach to families with children who might be eligible for SNAP because they were born in the U.S.
  • Including a requirement for program eligibility when a treaty between the U.S. and the Republic of the Marshall Islands is renegotiated.
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