In Focus: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Mar 15, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Supports for Individuals with Disabilities Are at Risk

The American Health Care Act (AHCA), sweeping legislation that would undo historic health care gains, is being rushed through Congress by House Republicans. If passed, it would have devastating consequences for vulnerable populations, particularly people with disabilities.
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans has a disability. According to the Center for American Progress, 15 million people with disabilities receive health insurance through Medicaid. This enables them to attend work or school and live in communities rather than health care facilities. The AHCA would put all of this at risk by changing Medicaid’s financial structure. Instead of an ongoing federal commitment to share the cost of providing comprehensive coverage, states would receive capped funding—or “per capita caps”—for Medicaid. This would shift costs to states and force them to limit benefits and coverage, especially for those who need the most care, such as adults and children with disabilities. This week, the independent Congressional Budget Office estimated that, by 2026, the AHCA would cut federal Medicaid spending by 25 percent, as well as reduce coverage by 14 million people, compared to current law.
The AHCA would terminate the Community First Choice option, which provides states with enhanced funding for home and community based services (HCBS), starting in 2020. Provided as waivers under Medicaid, HCBS ensure individuals with disabilities receive the support needed to live in their own homes, rather than nursing homes or other institutions. The CBO estimates $12 billion in cuts to these services over 10 years—forcing people with disabilities out of their communities into a limited range of facilities. Additionally, the AHCA would eliminate critical benefit protections for individuals who gained coverage under Medicaid expansion. The Essential Health Benefits at risk include a range of mental health and substance use services, as well as rehabilitative services.
Living with a disability, or caring for a family member with a disability, can be expensive. The specialized supports and services are often costly and difficult to navigate. Medicaid is essential to care for individuals who need equipment and specialized services that private insurance doesn’t cover. The impact of these services is highlighted in the video below, developed by the Center for American Progress and The Arc.

It’s critical that we protect Medicaid services so that adults and children with disabilities are afforded the opportunity to live in—and strengthen—their communities.

Mar 15, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

SNAP, Raising People out of Poverty, Effective at Combating Food Insecurity

By Victoria Palacio

One in eight U.S. households (15.8 million) is food insecure at some point during the year. Over 6 million (5 percent) have “very low food security,” which is defined as one or more household members skipping meals or consuming less due to lack of resources.

Recently, I spoke with Myra from Witnesses to Hunger, a research and advocacy project that shares the voices of people experiencing hunger and hardship, about her experience as a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipient.

Myra and her husband are a hardworking couple with two children in Philadelphia. Previously, Myra was employed full time as a CNA; however, like many women, she’s had to take time off throughout her career due to the birth of her children and lack of paid family leave. Her son, born over two months premature, has health complications. Despite these challenges, she’s worked as consistently as possible—even taking double shifts. Unfortunately, Myra lost her most recent job in 2016 when the facility she worked at closed. Myra’s husband is a veteran and former utility worker who became injured on the job in 2012. He’s unable to work now due to disability. Myra began receiving SNAP shortly after the birth of her son in 2006. With all her family’s been through, she says the program’s been hugely helpful—ensuring they can eat on a regular basis.  

Myra’s story reflects much of the research around food insecurity, which affects nearly one in five households with children and is associated with numerous negative outcomes. Children experience iron deficiency, anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, and other long-term health consequences. Households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line, households with children headed by single women or men, women and men living alone, and Black-and Hispanic-headed households are particularly at risk of being food insecure.

SNAP is highly effective at addressing food insecurity and alleviating extreme poverty. In 2015, SNAP raised 4.6 million people out of poverty. Moreover, it’s reduced the fraction of households that were food insecure and very-low food secure by 17 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

One of the key features of SNAP is that it reaches our most vulnerable populations; the majority of SNAP recipients are children, seniors, or people with disabilities. The program is also very flexible, adjusting to market changes and providing assistance to more people during economic recessions or natural disasters (through disaster SNAP, or D-SNAP).

SNAP benefits are very modest, worth just $1.39 per meal on average. Research suggests that slightly higher benefit levels would further reduce food insecurity and create additional health, educational, and economic benefits. Although Myra’s benefits recently increased, her family received just $33 a month from SNAP when she was working. She’s grateful for the benefits but acknowledged that receiving more aid would enable her to buy more fruits and vegetables for her children. This would make a big difference for her son, who needs more fiber in his diet to mitigate his health problems.

With rates of food insecurity remaining high in the U.S., it’s essential to preserve SNAP as a key element of the safety net, so it can continue to support low-income people like Myra and her family.

Mar 9, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

SNAP Supports Work, Helps Families Stabilize

By Nune Phillips

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food assistance to nearly 44 million people. A majority (70 percent) of recipients are children, elderly, or disabled. SNAP also supplements wages for low-income workers, who often don’t earn enough to climb out of poverty as well as maintain food security for themselves and their families. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, 58 percent earn income from employment while enrolled in SNAP. Moreover, 82 percent have employment income in the year prior to or following SNAP enrollment, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The share of households working while receiving SNAP has risen over the last two decades—even during the Great Recession. Unfortunately, many jobs don’t provide family-sustaining wages. In recent years, full-time jobs have been replaced with part-time jobs that lack adequate hours, do not offer paid leave, and have volatile and changing schedules. These jobs are particularly prevalent among low-income workers and create a domino effect of burdens on families. Parents with variable schedules are forced to miss work to care for children, face challenges in finding stable child care, lose income due to missed shifts, and often can’t make ends meet. For these families, safety net programs are crucial to ensure economic stability.
Regrettably, some proposed policies would deny SNAP benefits to people who aren’t meeting participation requirements. This would severely exacerbate hunger and poverty. SNAP already imposes a time limit on unemployed or underemployed childless individuals, even if they are actively seeking employment or employed up to 19 hours per week. States aren’t required to offer these recipients employment or training opportunities—and most don’t. In April 2016, when many states reinstated the time limit, the number of SNAP recipients dropped by 773,000 in a one-month period.
Additionally, some states require all SNAP recipients to participate in employment and training activities, and those who fail to comply may lose their benefits. These mandatory programs have not been shown to improve participants’ employability, but rather restrict access to nutrition assistance. Instead of doubling down on failed strategies, states should develop effective employment and training opportunities that align with proven programs like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). 
In an economy where many workers don’t earn enough to support themselves and their families, it’s time to stop attacking those who need nutrition assistance. Instead, we should agree that SNAP is a critical support for those who can’t work, households with low wages, and individuals seeking jobs.
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