In Focus: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Feb 28, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Community Eligibility: Setting a Place for All at the School Lunch Table

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Lavanya Mohan

There is a strong link between adequate nutrition and education. When children have enough to eat, they are more attentive in class, have better attendance, and fewer disciplinary problems. Furthermore, good nutrition improves quality of life and leads to strong long-term health, education, and economic outcomes. For low-income children, school meals are a key contributor to good nutrition. Unfortunately, not all children who qualify for free breakfast or lunch receive it.

On Tuesday, the Department of Agriculture announced plans to expand Community Eligibility, a pilot program that allows schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students in high-poverty schools. The program was created in 2010 by the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Under the law, if at least 40 percent of the students in a given school are known to qualify for free or reduced-price meals based on electronic matches with other programs that serve low-income families, (such as SNAP, TANF, or foster care services), then all students in that school are ruled eligible for free school meals. The USDA will reimburse schools for a share of all meals served based on the percentage of students who are identified as low-income by these automated matches.

Currently, Community Eligibility has been phased into 11 states. During the 2012-2013 school year, about 2,000 schools participated in the program, serving nearly 1 million children. With the expansion of Community Eligibility this July, more than 22,000 schools nationwide will be eligible to serve free breakfast and lunch to all their students—reaching nearly 9 million children.

Communities that currently participate in Community Eligibility have reacted positively. The program decreases the stigma experienced by children receiving free or reduced-price meals. Furthermore, it eases the administrative burden on schools, both in determining eligibility and in providing service. And most importantly, it ensures paperwork won't prevent needy kids from getting food, especially when parents lose jobs or otherwise fall on hard times.

The expansion of Community Eligibility will give millions of low-income children the free nutritious meals they need to ensure positive health, education, and economic outcomes now and in the future.   

To learn more about Community Eligibility and the opportunities it presents, visit FRAC’s Community Eligibility resource page.

To learn more about other ways federal and state governments can streamline eligibility determination to create modernized benefit systems that minimize the burden on both recipients and agencies, read Moving to 21st Century Public Benefits.

Feb 4, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Congress Enacts Farm Bill After Years of Debate and Negotiations

Helly Lee

On January 29th the House passed H.R. 2642, a negotiated agreement between House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders on the 5-year Farm Bill. On February 4th, the Senate followed suit and also passed the conference report, which the President will soon sign into law.

While disagreements over agricultural policy held up the final bill in the last weeks, the nutrition title of the bill, which includes authorization for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) was among the most contentious. The nutrition title in H.R. 2642 does not include the provisions from the House-passed bill that would have cut benefits from an estimated 4 million individuals, including eliminating SNAP eligibility based on Categorical Eligibility and limiting the ability of states that have areas of high unemployment to waive the time limit for SNAP on non-disabled adults without  minor children during bad economic times when individuals are unable to access jobs.

However, cuts to SNAP amount to nearly half of the over $16 billion in spending reductions in the bill. It includes an $8.6 billion cut to SNAP over 10 years by limiting a process, often called “heat and eat” that a number of states have used to increase SNAP benefits for some households. As a result, an estimated 850,000 households will see a decrease of approximately $90 a month in their SNAP benefits. This provision goes into effect 30 days after enactment of the law; however, states have the option of further delaying implementation by up to five months for current participants who are receiving increased benefits as a result of heat and eat. 

The nutrition title also includes $200 million for the creation and evaluation of pilot projects in up to ten states that will test innovative SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) strategies to help get participants into the workforce, raise earnings and ultimately, reduce SNAP participation. States may choose to include work activities that are countable toward the TANF work requirements, in addition to those already allowed under SNAP E&T. However, unlike the earlier proposal in the House Farm Bill, states will not be incentivized to impose barriers on SNAP receipt. The Secretary of Agriculture will select a number of projects from states that apply to take part in the pilot project. The projects are to be from diverse geographic areas, test a variety of education and training services and are subject to a 3-year time limit. The law also calls for the development of performance measures for SNAP E&T programs and clarifies the conditions under which low-income college students may receive SNAP benefits. CLASP will be analyzing these provisions more closely in the upcoming weeks and sharing additional information on the opportunities and challenges that they pose.

SNAP is an anti-poverty program that has been shown to lift families out of poverty. It is an automatic stabilizer – expanding to meet the needs of families during economic downturns and retracting as the economy recovers – and is a particularly critical support for families when the economy is slowly recovering and unemployment is still high. Certainly, helping to put more of those who can work into the workforce is the ideal solution, and that is why the work pilots in this bill will be critical. However, 70 percent of SNAP participants are children, elderly or disabled. For these and other vulnerable populations, it is essential that the SNAP program be protected from further cuts.

Jan 16, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Congress Continues Negotiations on Farm Bill: Protect SNAP!

By Helly Lee

Congress has yet to complete work on a 5-year Farm Bill reauthorization. The leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture committees continue to meet to discuss changes to the bill, leaving many to wonder what compromises on nutrition programs will come out of these closed-door sessions. Progress in moving the Farm Bill has been held up largely due to unresolved negotiations around agricultural provisions.  While much is still unclear, there have been some reports on what the conferees have tentatively agreed to regarding SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

It has been widely reported that the Farm Bill will include an $8.6 billion cut to SNAP over ten years; this would be accomplished by requiring that families receive at least $20 in heating assistance through the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in order to be eligible for an increase in their SNAP benefits. Under current law, a SNAP household can use a LIHEAP payment to document that the household has incurred heating costs, triggering a standard utility allowance which is calculated in the family’s SNAP benefit level. This is also known as “heat and eat.” Heat and eat boosts SNAP benefits for families receiving utility assistance. These cuts are similar to provisions in last year’s House Farm Bill and will affect, on average each year, 850,000 households, who will see an approximately $90 reduction in their SNAP benefits.  It will disproportionately affect households with elderly or disabled members.

The proposed cuts to heat and eat come on top of the cuts that hit SNAP households in November 2013 when the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary increases ended.  For a family of three, those cuts resulted in $29 less in benefits per month—a total of $319 for the fiscal year. Without the Recovery Act boost, SNAP benefits now average less than $1.40 per person per meal.

News reports also suggest that some of the most troubling provisions in the House Farm Bill – that would have cut benefits from an estimated 4 million individuals -- may not be included. This includes the provision that would have made it harder for unemployed workers to receive SNAP benefits, even when they were willing to work or participate in a job training program. There is reported to be a provision that is intended to encourage states to try new approaches in helping recipients find jobs and advance; CLASP will be reading this section closely when language is made public to ensure that it does not reward states for denying benefits to needy individuals.

The full conference committee is expected to take up the bill in the next couple weeks. This is a crucial time.  CLASP and advocates across the country are urging Congress to protect SNAP in the Farm Bill and in all other legislation.  We hope you’ll join us as we fight for families.  There’s still time to make your voice heard

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