In Focus: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

May 10, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Louisiana Sets New Bar for State Efficiency

By Suzanne Wikle

In an important development for low-income people, Louisiana announced it will be the first state in the country to seek approval from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to use data already on file to streamline its process for making determinations on eligibility for Medicaid. Thanks to an option provided to states in August 2015, Louisiana plans to use information that the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) agency already has to assist with Medicaid enrollment in launching its Medicaid expansion this summer. This major development out of Louisiana reflects strong leadership and a vision for improving the efficiency of government programs. Louisiana is taking this step in part because of the bold move made by newly inaugurated Governor John Bel Edwards who, in his first executive action after taking office in January 2016, expanded Medicaid under provisions available to states through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Many people who are eligible for Medicaid under the ACA Medicaid expansion are also eligible for SNAP. Therefore, it simply makes sense to use data from one program to aid enrollment in the other, rather than requiring people to provide duplicative information about their income. Under the option Louisiana is seeking approval to use, states may utilize income information on record for select SNAP populations to determine Medicaid eligibility.

This letter from CMS to states outlines all the criteria for this option. Generally this method of streamlined enrollment is helpful in determining Medicaid eligibility for people under 65 years old with stable income and household characteristics who are certain to be eligible for Medicaid. For example, a single mother of two children who earns minimum wage and has no other income would benefit from Louisiana’s method by having her SNAP income information used to determine her Medicaid eligibility – reducing the burden of paperwork on the parent and eliminating unnecessary processing by the state. Simply put, it’s common sense to eliminate the need to prove what the state already knows, and doing so makes the work of state government more efficient.

What’s particularly exciting is that Louisiana is availing itself of an option to use SNAP information for initial enrollment and renewal. Evidence shows that many eligible people lose Medicaid coverage at the time of their renewal, often due to missing paperwork. However, because most people reapply after losing coverage, this “churning” of eligible people is costly to the state and disruptive to enrollees and medical providers. Louisiana’s approach promises to reduce the rate of churn, which in turn increases efficiency and saves the state money by processing fewer applications.

Such streamlining and efficiency is how programs should operate in 2016, and more states should follow Louisiana’s lead. Louisiana is raising the bar and setting new standards for how government can operate at the top if its game – efficiency for the state and for the people who are working hard but struggle to make ends meet. Other states should take note and examine whether they are fully utilizing information on hand in one agency to eliminate duplicative work elsewhere.

Mar 25, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

House Budget Seeks Cuts and Changes to Low Income Programs that Work

By Helly Lee

Last week, the House Budget Committee released their proposed budget plan for federal fiscal year 2017. It aims to reduce the national deficit by $7 trillion over the next 10 years through a combination of spending cuts ($6.5 trillion) and projected economic growth, while bringing in no new revenue. The budget proposes an $877 billion cut in federal non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending over the next decade. It would accomplish this by freezing NDD at $472 billion over the next nine years—significantly lower than the $516 billion FY 2017 cap set by last year’s Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA). The budget also calls for billions of dollars of cuts to mandatory programs, with the deepest cuts to programs affecting low-income families.

Under the proposed budget plan, legislators seek to balance the budget on the backs of low-income Americans by cutting into critical programs that actually work to address poverty such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). CBPP reports that the House Budget Committee-approved plan would cut SNAP by more than $150 billion over the next ten years, ending food assistance for millions of low-income families. In addition, it seeks to block grant  SNAP, not only scaling back eligibility and reducing benefits, but also taking away the flexibility of the program to respond to the needs of families by expanding during times of economic downturn, and retracting as the economy recovers.

Some of the cuts included in the House Budget are already being moved as independent bills; the House Ways and Means Committee has cleared  H.R. 4722, which requires tax payers to use social security numbers when they claim the refundable portion of the CTC. This is yet another attempt to bring up a policy that would harm up to 4.5 million U.S. citizen children.  Under current law, low-wage, working parents who file taxes with an Individual Tax ID Number (ITIN) rather than a Social Security number, qualify for the CTC. Proponents claim that restricting CTC to only those who file with a Social Security number prevents fraud, but that claim is misguided. It would actually deny the benefits of the CTC to eligible, low-income working immigrant families, the vast majority of whom have U.S. citizen children. Other bills that have passed House committees would eliminate the Social Services Block Grant, and slash support for Medicaid and CHIP.

Both SNAP and the CTC, along with other critical safety net programs work to help low-income families make ends meet and lift millions of families out of poverty. Instead of proposing deep cuts and drastic changes to them, Congress should be working to protect and strengthen these programs.

Mar 10, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

CLASP Comments on SNAP Photo EBT Proposed Rules

By Helly Lee

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often referred to as food stamps) is a critical nutrition program for millions of low-income families and has one of the lowest rates for error and fraud. However, when states opt to require photos on SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, often under the premise of program integrity, it creates additional barriers to nutrition access. For many, the barriers exist in numerous aspects of having to obtain and use a photo EBT card. For example, if individuals are required to go into a state agency to take a photo for the card, they may have to take time off of work to do so, especially if office hours are during the work day. For those without reliable transportation or who live in areas far from where they need to go to take a photo for their EBT card, simply getting to an office to comply with the requirements poses significant barriers.

Obstacles can also arise on the retailer side. Even with photo EBT cards, household members and other caregivers who are not pictured are allowed to use the card to make food purchases. This can cause confusion among retailers who assume that the card can only be used by the person whose picture is on the card. Research has shown that implementing photo EBT cards is costly and does not deter fraud, however, a handful of states have or are considering the option. 

To establish procedures on implementing photo EBT cards, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) published a notice of proposed rulemaking for comment early this year. In the notice, FNS acknowledged that “recent state implementation of the photo EBT card option revealed significant legal and operational complexities and challenges associated with having a photo on the card,” and that guidance is necessary to clarify what states need to do in order to implement the photo EBT option. CLASP, which submitted comments in response to the proposed rules, has long opposed the implementation of photo EBT cards because of the barriers it creates for participants. However, we support the efforts of FNS to create strong guidance for states that chose this option to limit the complications and barriers that SNAP participants may face in those states. Specifically, CLASP provided comments on:

  • Ensuring that states choosing to implement photo EBT cards must continue to meet performance metrics even after implementation, meaning that states should continue to provide timely, accurate, and fair service to SNAP participants.
  • Ensuring that states address how they will reach individuals who already face barriers to access, including those whose primary language is not English, individuals with disabilities, elderly individuals, and people who are experiencing homelessness.
  • Demonstrating that states have sufficient capacity to issue photo EBT cards before they receive authorization from FNS to implement the photo EBT option.
  • Establishing a process to address the needs of those who cannot reach a state office due to a hardship condition, or because they are not within reasonable travel distance of an office.
  • Ensuring that states make every effort to make certain that all members of a household or authorized representatives of a household are able to use the photo EBT cards with a valid PIN, even if their photo is not on the card.
  • Including in their implementation plans, the state’s efforts to make mechanisms to handle complaint calls and questions from clients, retailers and external stakeholders available to English Language Learners, individuals with disabilities, elderly individuals, and others who may need additional assistance.

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