Reframing newsletter

When Bad Requirements Happen to Good Programs

January 9, 2020

Harmful cultural models — or inaccurate “deeply held understandings that motivate thought and behavior in largely unconscious and automatic ways” — can influence policymakers’ application of harsh requirements that limit access to programs such as hunger prevention. The start of state legislative sessions offers an opportunity to provide reframed messages that background those unproductive models, including:

  • Individualism, or attributing a person’s condition to their actions and choices and therefore assigning them responsibility for fixing it, rather than understanding how the broader societal systems and conditions contribute to their situation and should help improve it, and
  • Human services are charity, which should be temporary, direct services for critical basic needs, instead of considering human service organizations’ research, prevention, intervention, advocacy and other initiatives that support people throughout their lives.

Unfortunately, these misinformed cultural models seem to be behind the Administration’s new rule that will limit adults’ eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — despite estimating that 688,000 individuals will lose SNAP payments in Fiscal Year 2021. SNAP provides people the nutritional building blocks they need for their physical and emotional health, reducing the number of Americans living in poverty by more than 3 million in 2018.

Most adults are required to work or participate in approved training programs in order to access SNAP. Recognizing that an individual’s ability to do so can be stymied by external factors, like a faltering local economy, the current rule allows states with areas experiencing relatively high unemployment rates to waive work requirements for those areas. Under the new rule starting April 1, 2020, however, states must meet more stringent thresholds to receive waivers of work requirements. According to Feeding America: “The final rule would effectively do away with state waivers by restricting the underlying criteria upon which waiver requests can be granted and expanding the grounds upon which they can be denied.

In essence, the new regulation will impose work requirements on more individuals. Yet, as our friends at ideas42, a nonprofit organization that advances policies informed by behavioral science, demonstrate: Work Requirements Don’t Work. Among other negative consequences, “work requirements drive a misleading narrative” that mischaracterizes decision-making by people in poverty, sidelines the fact that “most people using public supports already want to work, and most already are working,” as well as “inherently enforce[s] the narrative that people using public programs need to be policed.”

While SNAP is the latest program impacted by the push for increased work requirements, as ideas42 indicates, this is a common theme playing out in health and human services policymaking across the country. In order to foster the public’s knowledge, and therefore support, of programs that address health and well-being, human service organizations need to be intentional in explaining how programs and policies work, how external factors (not individual attributes) make them necessary, and why they should be a policy priority. The Building Well-Being Narrative is designed to do just that by orienting the conversation around the shared value of human potential, providing a general explanation of programs with the construction metaphor, and normalizing the role of programs and services with life cycle examples.

When advocating specifically against the unnecessary restrictions on recipients in the new SNAP rule and for increased support for hunger programs in state budgets, we encourage you to also rely upon additional resources on hunger developed by the FrameWorks Institute, including:

  • Framed communications created in partnership with A Place at the Table, which your organization can adapt for advocacy messages and
  • Its Reframing Hunger in America message brief, which offers a deeper dive into the challenges to, and recommendations for, building support for food assistance programs and policies.

Please be sure to email your reframed food assistance messages to Bridget Gavaghan, National Reframing Initiative Director.

SPOTLIGHT: FrameWorks Institute Takes on Affordable Housing

As we noted in a prior Newsletter issue, in celebration of its 20th Anniversary, FrameWorks Institute launched a limited podcast series, Frame[s] of Mind, with staff and experts discussing how to communicate about social issues. “Episode 3: How Can Affordable Housing Be Elevated as a Social Justice Issue?” covers how the dominant cultural model of consumerism (i.e., housing is a private market commodity that people purchase based on preference) prevents the public from thinking policy has a place in creating affordable housing. It advises explaining how historical policy decisions have resulted in racial and economic segregation to prime people to consider systemic policy solutions to those challenges. The episode also includes tips for how to communicate complicated housing programs to the public with framing insights and values, such as interdependence and fairness across places. Listen to it on iTunes, SoundCloud and Spotify. Check out FrameWorks’ other resources on housing. The last podcast episode, “How does understanding brain development lead to policy change?,” was recently released and will be highlighted in the coming weeks.