On May 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a policy to improve equitable access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the prohibition against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As the USDA explained in its statement, “This action is in line with President Biden’s Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the Court held that the prohibition on sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Recent research underscores the importance of the USDA action for health and well-being. Census data has documented disparate rates of food insecurity experienced by LGBTQIA+ adults. New findings by the UCLA Law School Williams Institute also highlight the deep disparities that transgender people experience:
- Transgender people were almost 2.5 times more likely than cisgender people to face food insufficiency during the pandemic (19.9% versus 8.3%), with the disparity rising to nearly five times for transgender people of color compared to white cisgender people (28.% versus 6%).
- Fewer transgender people who met SNAP’s income requirement were enrolled compared to cisgender people (29% versus 39%).
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has detailed specific steps state and local agencies and program operators must take in implementing the policy.
- Program administrators and operators must accept and process discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation or gender identity, making any necessary updates to their discrimination claims systems to do so.
- Administrators and operators must update their Nondiscrimination Statements to include “gender identity (including gender expression), sexual orientation” in addition to existing protections. Translations in more than 20 languages will be forthcoming from USDA.
- As supplies are available, administrators and operators must update signage, such as “Justice for All” posters that provide important onsite visual reminders of protections in FNS programs.
- State agencies must distribute USDA’s memorandum about the policy “to local agencies, program operators and sponsors, and all other subrecipients of federal financial assistance.”
What Anti-Hunger Advocates Can Do
Advocates can advance equitable access for LGBTQIA+ individuals by monitoring implementation of and compliance with the SNAP non-discrimination policy. They should also work with USDA, states, and other stakeholders to promote best practices such as:
- inclusive language in SNAP applications and program information;
- anti-bias training for SNAP administrators, caseworkers, and other SNAP personnel; and
- acceptable forms of identity verification for SNAP eligibility, including forms that do not match someone’s gender identity. If identity matching sex assigned at birth is required, such as for validation with Social Security records, this should be explained to the SNAP applicant using inclusive language.
For technical assistance on this SNAP policy, contact Andrew Cheyne, FRAC’s SNAP deputy director, at email@example.com.