In Focus

Jun 30, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

TANF, SNAP Improvements Come to New York City

By Lavanya Mohan and Elizabeth Lower-Basch

In May, Steven Banks, the new Commissioner under Mayor de Blasio of the Human Resource Administration (HRA), the city’s social services agency,  announced key initiatives that will improve access to income supports and training, thereby reducing barriers to self-sufficiency for poor people. In the past, New York City has pioneered innovative anti-poverty programs, such as a pilot that expands the Earned Income Tax credit (EITC) for low-income childless workers, including non-custodial parents.  However, the city has not previously focused on improving access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

One of these key HRA initiatives is accepting a federal waiver to ease restrictions for receipt of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) due to high unemployment rates. Without the federal waiver, ABAWDs are subject to strict eligibility rules – only receiving SNAP benefits for three months out of every three years if they are not employed at least 20 hours per week or in a qualifying work activity (for more information, see SNAP Works: SNAP Work Requirements and Time Limits). Childless workers, including non-custodial parents, often do not qualify for any other safety net benefits. The change in rules will affect 40,000 SNAP recipients in New York City who fall within this category. 

Another important reform that HRA plans to adopt will allow TANF recipients the opportunity to meet their work requirements by attending school leading to a four-year college degree.  This does not remove the time limit on full-time education and training, but lifts the arbitrary limit on the type of degrees that may be counted. TANF recipients will also be able to count school, homework and work-study hours in their employment plan. This reflects a corresponding change in the state rules passed as part of the New York State budget earlier this year.

Along with these reforms, additional measures aim to improve agency follow-up and engagement with SNAP applicants and recipients.  The final approved budget met HRA’s request of $9.7 billion, an increase of $195 million from the previous year. The budget will also provide universal free school meals for all students at public middle schools in New York City.  CLASP applauds these efforts that decrease barriers poor individuals face as they strive to secure employment and become self-sufficient.

Jun 20, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Rockefeller CHIP Bill Would Extend Critical Programs for Children’s Health

By Helly Lee

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides comprehensive health coverage to children in families whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid but who don’t make enough to afford comparable private health coverage. The program currently covers nearly 8 million children through federal matching funds to states.  Without CHIP, the coverage these kids receive would be less comprehensive —or they wouldn’t have any coverage due to the so-called “family glitch.”

With CHIP funding set to expire on September 30, 2015, it’s critical that Congress take action.  Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) recently introduced the CHIP Extension Act of 2014, which would extend CHIP funding  through September 30, 2019.

The CHIP Extension Act of 2014 also includes other provisions important to low-income communities. In particular, the bill includes a provision to ensure former foster children can access Medicaid between ages 18 and 26—even if they change their state of residence after they age out of foster care. Foster youth are disproportionately affected by medical, mental health, and substance abuse challenges , making access to health services critical. This provision would allow foster youth who have aged out of the system the same opportunity as young people who are permitted to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26 under the ACA. Ages 18 through 26 are critical transition years for former foster youth, especially those who choose to pursue educational or employment opportunities outside the state they lived in when they aged out of foster care.  It’s vital that they have access to uninterrupted health care if they are to prosper.

The bill also includes a provision to extend the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, a federal and state partnership that supports evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs in every state. Home visiting has a strong evidence base, backed by rigorous research that supports the models’ effectiveness at promoting children’s health and development and strong parenting skills while leading to fewer children in the social welfare, mental health, and juvenile corrections systems; it’s proven to create considerable cost savings for states. The CHIP Extension Act of 2014 proposes a 5-year extension of MIECHV, providing $400 million per year for fiscal years 2015 through 2019.

The CHIP Extension Act of 2014 would also make permanent Express Lane Eligibility (ELE), a state option that streamlines enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP.  ELE enables state Medicaid and CHIP agencies to identify, enroll, and recertify children by relying on eligibility findings from other programs serving low-income families, such as Head Start or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), rather than having to re-analyze information under their individual rules. ELE simplifies the enrollment process for families and improves efficiency of administering these programs that serve low-income families.

CLASP applauds Senator Rockefeller’s leadership in advocating for children’s health.  Congress should take prompt action to extend CHIP and these important programs that serve low-income children, youth, and families. 

Jun 6, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Summer Nutrition Programs Heating Up

By Helly Lee

As children, many of us looked forward to summer breaks from school as a time for spending long days in the sun with our friends and family.  However, for millions of American children, summer can mean losing access to the regular meals that they have during the school year.  A recent report released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) reiterates the importance of summer nutrition programs such as the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) because they serve millions of low-income children each year during these summer months.  These programs provide nutritious meals for low-income children who may otherwise go hungry in the summer months when they are not in school.

The report reveals that in 2013, the Summer Nutrition Programs grew to serve nearly 3 million children, an increase of 161,000 children from 2012 and the largest percentage increase since 2003.  This participation growth in 2013 can largely be attributed to the commitment that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made to prioritize participation in summer nutrition programs.  In partnership with key nutrition advocates, USDA’s goal of increasing the number of meals served by 5 million from the previous year was surpassed by an additional 2 million (7 million more meals were served in the summer of 2013 than in 2012).

While this is great news that more children who need access to summer nutrition are using these programs, there’s more to be done to improve the programs to serve even more children and some harder to reach populations. The programs served millions more in 2013, but they still only reached 1 in 7 children who needed summer meals, according to the FRAC report.

Nutrition is vital to the cognitive and physical health and development of children.  Children need nutrition to learn in and out school, and a summer break is not an exception for when nutrition is a necessity.  Research has shown that well fed-children tend to be healthier overall and are sick less often, have fewer developmental problems, and have lower obesity rates.  Ensuring that children continue to receive the nutrition they need in the summer months will help them to come back to school in the fall healthy and ready to learn.

The forthcoming reauthorization of child nutrition programs, expected in 2015, provides Congress the opportunity to further strengthen a number of vital nutrition programs including summer feeding programs.  Members of Congress have already started to introduce bills that would improve these programs.  These include Senator Murray’s Stop Child Summer Hunger Act which would provide families with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card for the purchase of food during summer months and Representative Dina Titus’ Helping Hungry Students Learn Act.  These and other proposals leading up to reauthorization will be critical in setting the stage for 2015.

School may be letting out soon, but the heat is on to ensure that millions of children do not go hungry during the summer months.

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