In Focus

Sep 17, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

House Holds Hearing on SNAP E&T Pilots

By Helly Lee

Today, the House Committee on Agriculture hosted a hearing on the  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training (E&T) pilots created by the 2014 Farm Bill. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack was called to testify before the Committee on the implementation of the pilots.

As we mentioned in a recent blog post, USDA released their Request for Applications (RFA) for the pilots on August 25th. While the implementation of the pilot program is still in its early stages, it was clear at today’s hearing that Congress will be looking at the pilots for innovative and successful strategies that will inform future policy making.  In his testimony and in his answers to the members’ questions, Secretary Vilsack reiterated a few key points:

  • The purpose of the pilots is to better understand the barriers that SNAP participants face and help get more people into work and prepare them for better jobs. The majority of SNAP participants who can work already do, but do not make enough to lift them out of poverty.
  • The guidelines put forth in the RFA cast a wide net for innovative ideas and proposals from states and are designed to allow states and local partners the room to propose creative strategies to help reduce the number of people who need SNAP.
  • There is great emphasis on collaboration. The RFA requires a commitment from applicants to collaborate with State workforce and job training programs. USDA encourages proposals which include strategies that engage workforce, SNAP and other partners.

Secretary Vilsack also mentioned the work that he has already done to engage the Department of Labor and his efforts to directly connect with Governors across the country to inform them of this pilot opportunity. He observed that many Governors told him that they had not been aware of the pilots. This highlights the need for state advocates to also engage high level policymakers to ensure they are aware of the pilots and the opportunity to develop innovative strategies that support SNAP participants.

The deadline for applications is November 24. Applicants may submit questions regarding the RFA to USDA by this Friday, September 19th. USDA asks states intending to apply to submit a letter of intent by following Friday, September 26th.

For more information about SNAP E&T and the pilots, visit CLASP’s SNAP E&T resources page.

Sep 4, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Economy Slowly Recovers but Millions Still Hungry

By Helly Lee

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its Household Food Security in the United States in 2013 report, which revealed that more than 49.1 million people (or 14.3 percent of households), including 15.8 million children, struggled with food insecurity in 2013. Those with food insecurity had difficulty at some time during the year in providing enough food for all their household members due to a lack of resources. These numbers are a slight change (but not statistically significant) from the 14.5 percent of households that were food insecure in 2012. In 2013, 6.8 million households (5.6 percent) faced very low food security, meaning that one or more household members experienced reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns at times during the year.

While the food insecurity rates were largely unchanged from the previous year, the report shows that there’s still much to be done to alleviate hunger across the country. Food insecurity remains significantly higher than the 11.1 percent rate in 2007 before the recession.

The rates and severity of food insecurity also vary by location. For example, states like Arkansas (21.2 percent), Mississippi (21.1 percent) and Texas (18 percent) ranked highest among food-insecure households, well above the national rate.

There are also large disparities in the rates of food insecurity across racial and ethnic categories. While 10.6 percent of White, non-Hispanic households experienced food insecurity in 2013 (below the national rate of 14.3 percent), Black (26.1 percent) and Hispanic (23.7 percent) households experienced significantly higher food insecurity than the national rate and more than double that of White households.

Households with children also experienced food insecurity at a much higher rate (19.5 percent). This is concerning because scientific evidence shows that children need to have adequate nutrition to excel in school and grow. Recent research by Children’s HealthWatch reveals that, when compared to children under the age of four who were food secure, young children at risk of food insecurity were 56 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health, and 60 percent were more likely to be at risk for developmental delays. 

The release of USDA’s report is a reminder that while the economy is slowly recovering, millions still struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table. Federal nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the National School Lunch Program and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program remain critical supports for families and children who do not have access to adequate nutrition. However, even as the needs remain, continued threats can weaken the reach of these vital programs. In November 2013, nearly every SNAP household endured a cut when Congress failed to enact legislation to extend the 2009 Recovery Act’s boost (a maximum monthly benefit increase by 13.6 percent) to the benefits, further compromising the food security of households already struggling economically.

Congress has the opportunity to strengthen vital federal child nutrition programs in the upcoming year through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act and through steadfast protection of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in future policymaking.  

Sep 2, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

California Takes Important Steps on Benefit Access

By Randi Hall

As the California legislature wraps up its session, a number of critical bills that improve access to safety net programs are waiting for Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.  These bills utilize state flexibilities allowed under federal law to improve coordination among CalFresh (the California name for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and Medi-Cal (Medicaid).

  • Sponsored by state Senator De León, SB-1002 would streamline eligibility determinations between Medi-Cal and CalFresh to improve benefits access for low-income Californians. Approximately 35 percent of those enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, are potentially eligible to receive CalFresh benefits, but are not currently enrolled.  Similarly, only 77 percent of CalFresh recipients are enrolled in Medi-Cal despite the health care program’s higher income threshold for eligibility. The bill would direct California to seek federal waivers to use the eligibility information used by each program for the other program. This would build on the current Express Lane Enrollment Project, which uses the temporary authority granted by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to use SNAP eligibility to streamline Medicaid enrollment. To date, over 230,000 CalFresh recipients have been enrolled into Medi-Cal through the project.
  • By allowing improving how administrators identify and verify participation in employment training, AB-1930, authored by Assembly Members Skinner and coauthored by Senator Carol Liu, will ensure that low-income college students in these programs can receive federal food assistance to which they are entitled. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 21 percent of students enrolled in college or graduate programs in California fall below the poverty line. Federal law places restrictions on SNAP eligibility for college students, but allows exceptions for students enrolled in employment-focused training.  The bill would require the state Department of Social Services to identify educational programs which would qualify students for this exception and provide guidance on how to verify participation in these programs. 
  • Assembly Member Stone introduced AB-1614, the EBT Protections and Empowerment Act, which would provide CalWORKS and CalFresh recipients with key information about accessing and managing their monthly benefits. The bill would require the EBT system to maintain a 24-hour toll-free hotline for recipients to take their questions about using the EBT system or reporting a theft, and would require county human service agencies to inform individuals how to avoid fees when using an EBT card to withdraw benefits. EBT vendors would also be required to inform recipients and retailers when a system outage is expected to occur for more than one hour.
  • California would join several other states who provide TANF benefits to pregnant women, with no other children, during their 2nd trimester of pregnancy if AB 1579 (Stone) is signed into law.  California currently only provides benefits starting at the 3rd trimester, despite all that is known about the dangers of homelessness and deep poverty to women and fetuses. Proponents of the bill also point out that domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to pregnant women and that, without alternatives, pregnant women are unable to leave abusive environments.
  • Responding to research showing that a TANF sanction does not improve school attendance of poor children and a new report by California’s Attorney General about the role of poverty in increasing truancy rates, AB 2382, authored by the Assembly’s Chairman of the Boys and Men of Color, Assembly Member Bradford, would remove the longstanding TANF sanction for poor school attendance.

The Governor has until September 30th to sign this legislation and, if signed, the new policies would begin implementation by spring of 2015. CLASP urges Governor Brown to sign these bills promptly to expand Californians’ access to key safety net programs work supports. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill exempting individuals with previous histories of drug-related felonies from the federal ban on SNAP and CalWORKs (TANF) benefits. Other bills that advocates fought hard for but did not pass this session included a proposal to help impoverished families pay for diapers, and the repeal of the “Maximum Family Grant” rule (also known as a child exclusion or family cap), which denies additional financial support to children born into families receiving cash assistance under CalWORKs.

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