Executive Summary: Advancing Disability Equity and Access in TANF and SNAP for People with Long COVID

By Ashley Burnside, Elizabeth Lower-Basch, Teon Dolby, Parker Gilkesson, and Lisa McCorkell

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a growing population is developing Long COVID, a post-viral illness that can be debilitating. With more than 200 possible symptoms, it can interfere in a person’s ability to work, threatening their economic stability. One in five adults who are infected with COVID develop Long COVID, with greater numbers reported in women; young people; Indigenous and Hispanic/Latinx communities, among others. One study found that two-thirds of respondents with Long COVID who had previously been working had to reduce their hours or couldn’t work at all.

For people with disabilities, public benefit programs are critical to avoiding hunger and hardship given the lack of adequate accommodations in the workplace, the risk of employment discrimination, and other barriers that disabled people can face when accessing employment. As more people experience disability from Long COVID, they may turn to two public programs to make ends meet: cash assistance, under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant; and food assistance, under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps). However, extreme policy and program restrictions can limit access to assistance when it’s needed most.

This brief recommends actions that federal, state, and local policymakers and administrators can take to ensure these programs better meet the needs of disabled people at a time when the disabled population is skyrocketing.

Specifically, TANF and SNAP have work reporting requirements that pose tremendous barriers to accessing benefits, specifically for disabled people, including people who have Long COVID. While there are exemptions based on disability in these work requirements, proving one’s disability status can be burdensome and complicated, especially for “invisible” disabilities and conditions that may impact people differently from one day to another. Alongside other program and policy hurdles, these obstacles push crucial aid out of reach—causing the most harm to disabled people of color and those with other marginalized identities. Advancing disability equity in TANF and SNAP can mitigate the harm of ableist and racist barriers.

>> Read the executive summary here

>> Read the full report here