In Focus: Refundable Tax Credits

Aug 19, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Community Eligibility Removes Red Tape, Feeds Millions of Children

By Victoria Palacio

Since 1946, low-income children have been eligible to receive free and reduced-priced meals at school. Because children learn better when they’re not hungry, this strategy has strongly supported educational success. However, many low-income children fail to receive the meals for which they are eligible because they do not return the required paperwork. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), enacted by Congress as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, is designed to address this issue. CEP makes free meals available to all students in certain high-poverty schools, as measured by aggregate participation in other means-tested programs. This ensures low-income kids don’t miss out for failing to turn in a school meal application.

Since the provision was first implemented during the 2014-2015 school year, CEP has increased breakfast participation by 9.4 percent and lunch participation by 5.2 percent. Without Community Eligibility, students in families who move, experience changes in household income, or have mixed immigration status often fail to receive school meals.  Moreover, Community Eligibility reduces the stigma that students may feel about receiving nutrition assistance.  

Schools can participate in Community Eligibility if at least 40 percent of students automatically qualify for free school meals based on participation in other need-based programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). Students who are foster children, migrants, participate in the Head Start or Even Start programs, or considered homeless or runaways are automatically eligible, as well.

CEP can be implemented on an individual school basis, as a group of schools within a district, or as a whole district. Community Eligibility removes the administrative burden from schools of collecting household applications to determine eligibility for school meal programs. The program also saves parents time by eliminating the additional paperwork. Currently, over 18,000 high-poverty schools have implemented CEP and 8.5 million children have received healthy school meals at no charge under this provision.  

Last month, the U.S. Drug Administration released the final CEP administrative rule, which made some clarifications and changes to address feedback from school districts, state child nutrition agencies, advocates, and the community. The final rule further enhances efficiency in the administrative process and makes it even easier to participate in CEP. These developments will ensure this effective program reaches all eligible schools and communities—adding to the millions of low-income students already served.

Despite the release of the final rule, House legislation (H.R. 5003) has been introduced, which would  severely limit the reach and quality of school meals, stripping away Community Eligibility as well as research-based nutrition standards for student meals, snacks, and beverages. In addition, House lawmakers have released their plan to block-grant SNAP and begin to block grant school nutrition programs. We urge Congress not to pass legislation that would prohibit millions of students from benefiting from this crucial element of the school meal programs.

Aug 5, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Food Insecurity, SNAP Participation Higher in LGBT Community

By Jessica Gehr

A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that people who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) experience more food insecurity and participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at higher rates than non-LGBT adults. This is consistent with data that show LGBT individuals are more likely to be poor and face higher rates of poverty than heterosexuals.
According to the study, more than 1 in 4 LGBT adults (approximately 2.2 million people) could not afford to buy food for themselves or their families at some point in the past year, compared to 17 percent of non-LGBT adults. Further, more than 1 in 4 LGB adults aged 18 to 44 receives food assistance under SNAP, compared to 20 percent of non-LGB adults. The study did not track SNAP participation among transgender people. Finally, adults in same-sex couples are 1.58 times more likely to have participated in SNAP in the past year compared to different-sex couples.
Among all SNAP recipients, there are major gender, racial, and other disparities. These disparities are even starker within the LGBT community.  LGBT women, young people, legally single individuals, people with children in the household, racial and ethnic minorities, and people without college degrees are especially likely to experience food insecurity. Thirty-one percent of LGB women, compared to 22 percent of LGB men, report not having enough money for food in the past year. Additionally, 42 percent of African-Americans and 33 percent of Hispanics experience food insecurity, compared to just 21 percent of Whites. 
The lack of legal protections for the LGBT community is pushing more and more LGBT people into poverty. Policymakers must update laws to provide LGBT people comprehensive nondiscrimination protections in hiring, housing, credit, and other areas. They must also expand data collection to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to better evaluate pressing issues in the LGBT community and create more effective policies at all levels.

Jul 22, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

SNAP Proposals to Ban “Junk Food” Ignore Realities of Food Insecurity

By Nune Phillips

In June, Maine Governor Paul LePage made headlines by threatening to end his state’s participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). LePage said he’d withdraw from the program unless Maine was permitted to ban SNAP recipients from using their benefits for “junk” food. According to participation data released by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), nearly 190,000 Maine residents currently receive SNAP. Governor LePage’s irresponsible threat to suspend the program would severely worsen food insecurity for these families and individuals.

Many low-income families struggle to afford healthy food, but denying them SNAP benefits would only exacerbate this problem. Healthy food is more costly than low-nutrition options, leaving low-income families struggling to afford quality meals. The average SNAP benefit for a household is just $254, an amount that many of us would find challenging to stretch over a month. Cutting off benefits would turn a significant problem into a major crisis.

In 2013, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) released a report on strengthening SNAP’s role in improving nutrition and food security. More recently, the Urban Institute addressed common misconceptions about the food choices of SNAP beneficiaries, while the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) explained how increasing SNAP benefits can improve the diets of low-income households.

There are many evidence-based strategies to improve nutrition among low-income and SNAP households:

  • Increasing SNAP participation decreases the number of food-insecure households, allowing families and individuals to better afford healthy meals.
  • Increasing monthly SNAP allotments provides households the purchasing power to make healthy food choices. A recent study found that an additional $30 per month can significantly improve consumption of vegetables and other healthy foods.  
  • Promoting fruit and vegetable purchases with incentives and money-back offers increases consumption, as evidenced by local programs that allow SNAP households to get more for their SNAP dollars at grocery stores and to use their benefits at farmer’s markets.
  • Enhancing nutrition education and healthy food practices in local communities benefits SNAP recipients, low-income households, and the community at large. As FRAC highlights, a California study found that local education improved attitudes, knowledge, and behavior, resulting in increased fruit and vegetable consumption.

Proposals like Maine’s are grounded in false stereotypes that SNAP recipients prefer to purchase junk food over healthier options. However, a study completed by the USDA indicates that—while SNAP recipients are more likely to be obese than other low-income households as well as higher-income households—SNAP recipients are less likely to consume sweets, desserts, and salty snacks than higher-income individuals. Further, their diets overall are only slightly less healthy than that of all Americans, based on the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion dietary guidelines.

LePage’s proposal is only the latest attempt to restrict how SNAP benefits can be used. While the governor has proposed to eliminate “junk food” (mentioning candy and soda specifically), proposals in New York and Missouri have tried to limit access to steak, seafood, and other foods categorized as “luxury.”

If we are truly concerned about the health and wellness of SNAP recipients and low-income families, we should consider the evidence rather than stigmatizing them. We know what works. There are practical solutions that will allow SNAP recipients and low-income households to make healthy food choices for themselves and their families. 

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