In Focus: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

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 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.

Apr 25, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Food Insecurity a Major Problem for U.S. Families

By Zane Jennings and Helly Lee

A new report from Feeding America, a network of over 200 food banks across the country, highlights troubling data and national trends on food insecurity (not knowing when or where your next meal will come from). “Map the Meal Gap” illustrates the critical need to continue federal investment in nutrition programs as families struggle to make ends meet in a slowly recovering economy.

In the United States, 49 million people are food insecure, including 16 million children. This has major consequences for a child’s physical and cognitive development, resulting in poor school performance during critical years. Furthermore, food insecurity can detrimentally affect adults. Food-insecure women may be at greater risk of mental health issues, including maternal depression, while both women and men are at higher risk of diabetes.

Food insecurity hasn’t let up during our slow economic recovery. Between 2011 and 2012, the national food insecurity average remained essentially the same, dropping just 0.4 percent. And despite a modest reduction in unemployment rates, poverty (a strong predictor of food insecurity) persisted at its previous rates. 

The report includes county-level data on food insecurity and finds that minority communities, where poverty rates are higher than the national average, are disproportionately affected. In 2012, 93 percent of counties where African Americans make up the majority of the population fell into the high-food insecurity group. The average poverty rate in these counties was 29 percent—well above the national average (16 percent).

Federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) help address the nutritional needs of low-income families. SNAP has proven to be an effective anti-poverty program that expands to meet increased need when the economy is bad and retracts as the economy recovers. However, SNAP alone cannot fully alleviate the food insecurity of families across the nation. The report finds that 27 percent of food-insecure Americans are typically ineligible for most federal nutrition assistance programs because they exceed income limits.  Instead of imposing the SNAP cuts included in the Ryan budget, we should strengthen the program to serve even more food-insecure households.  

Food insecurity is of paramount importance to the futures of both our economy and families. Charities play a vital role in addressing the problem, but they aren’t able to bear the bulk of the load. It is vital that we continue to invest in federal nutrition programs to support food-insecure communities.

site by Trilogy Interactive