In Focus: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Apr 7, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Listen to the Evidence: Protect SNAP

By Randi Hall

In a recent hearing on the use of evidence to guide federal investments in social policy held by the Subcommittee on Human Resources in the House Committee on Ways and Means, a witness invited by the Republican majority, John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, highlighted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a program with a strong backing in evidence.  Bridgeland cited a 2014 longitudinal study of SNAP that illustrates the program helps to “[address] severe malnutrition and alleviate hunger,” while also increasing employment rates and reducing welfare receipt of poor mothers. 

In spite of the strong evidence of the effectiveness of SNAP benefits, the U.S. House and Senate Republican leadership have outlined FY2016 budget proposals that would slash SNAP and steeply cut the social safety net for millions of low-income children and families. In particular, the House budget would convert the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into a block grant and cut $125 billion from the program between 2021 and 2025.Turning SNAP into a block grant would mean that states receive a set amount of allocated funding for the program, which would dismantle the program’s current ability to expand during an economic decline to serve the growing needs of families as it did in the recent recession, and then retract as the economy recovers.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, the House budget’s cuts would come on top of recent and upcoming reductions that families and individuals are already experiencing. The 2014 Farm Bill cut SNAP spending by an estimated $8.6 billion over a decade.   In addition, over a million unemployed workers are projected to lose benefits in 2016 due to SNAP time limits.  

If Congress agrees once again to cut SNAP spending it could undermine the economic recovery for millions of low-income households. The Congressional Budget Office has conducted analyses of the effects of cutting SNAP spending by 15%, or $77 billion, in 2016. CBO examined the economic impacts on low-income households of three possible strategies to achieve this reduction:

  • Reduce the maximum SNAP benefit by 13 percent for all participants.  This would hurt households with incomes below $15,000 the most, decreasing their total annual income by 4 percent.
  • Increase the benefit phase-out rate from 30 to 49 percent. If the benefit phase-out rate were raised, SNAP benefits for households earning between $25,000 and $32,000 would fall by almost $1,200 a year.
  • Reduce the monthly income limit for eligibility from 130 to 67 percent of the federal poverty line. This change would affect households making between $15,000 and $25,000 the hardest, reducing their annual SNAP benefits by nearly 40 percent. 

Congressional Budget Office analysis of the effects of total SNAP Benefits in 2016 of three options to reduce SNAP spending by 15 percent.

According to U.S. Census data, SNAP lifted as many as 3.7 million people out of poverty in 2013.  Shrinking SNAP benefits would affect the country’s most vulnerable populations and would increase food insecurity among poor children.  Congress should listen to John Bridgeland, listen to the evidence, and preserve this highly effective program.

Mar 20, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

FNS Announces SNAP E&T Pilots in 10 States

By Randi Hall and Helly Lee

Last year's Farm Bill provided $200 million for pilots under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program. While at least one person is employed in over half of all SNAP households with a working-age, non-disabled adult, these pilots will test whether SNAP E&T could more effectively connect unemployed and underemployed recipients to work. The goal is to help participants develop the skills they need to secure good jobs that provide economic security and reduce participation in SNAP.

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Nutrition Service (FNS) announced the 10 states selected for funding. The selected pilots include a mix of mandatory and voluntary E&T programs, many of which also include career pathway models. Several of the pilots target individuals who face significant barriers to employment, including homeless adults, the long-term unemployed, individuals in the correctional system, and individuals with substance addiction illness. Each pilot involves multiple partners (such as workforce boards, community colleges, adult education providers, community-based organizations, and local employers) to connect workers to resources and services already available in the community. 

U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez tweeted about his visit to  Gwinnett Technical College to highlight how grants will help SNAP recipients secure good jobs and move off assistance.

In California, the Fresno Department of Social Services will use its pilot funding to expand the Fresno Bridge Academy, a workforce development program of Reading and Beyond that helps unemployed and underemployed adults obtain jobs or become job ready. Over the course of 18 months, the Fresno Bridge Academy helps participants develop employment and training goals, as well as access job training programs and employment. For those who are already employed, the program helps them find better jobs, earn more in their current jobs, or learn new skills necessary for promotion. The Fresno Bridge Academy also partners with adult schools and city colleges to provide additional training and certifications for program participants.

Through the pilot, the Fresno Bridge Academy will strengthen their existing services, in providing education, job training, support services, subsidized and unsubsidized employment, retention services, ongoing case management, and financial incentives for SNAP E&T participants. The program is unique for its multi-generational approach, which helps parents obtain jobs skills and employment while providing services that help their children excel in school and access community resources.

The SNAP E&T pilots will be evaluated by MDRC and Mathematica, which will measure the impact of each initiative and inform future policymaking. In the announcement of the pilots, Undersecretary Concannon also emphasized that USDA will be working with all states to strengthen their core SNAP E&T programs and build in best practices from the workforce development system.  While these pilots provide full federal funding for the selected states, other states willing to invest non-federal funds can draw down 50 percent reimbursement to strengthen their E&T services.

Oct 23, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

One in Five SNAP Recipients Has No Other Income

By Randi Hall

While most people receiving food supports under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—formerly known as food stamps) are in households with working members, or where all adult members are not expected to work due to age or disability, the share of SNAP recipients with no other reported income has grown in recent years. Overall, the proportion of SNAP participants living in households with zero gross income doubled from 9.7 percent in fiscal year 1993 to 20.5 percent in fiscal year 2012.

Policymakers have wondered about the characteristics of zero-income SNAP households, the economic and/or policy dynamics affecting this population, and how they are getting by.  In order to answer these questions, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) commissioned an extensive study of SNAP households reporting zero gross income. By using the U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) panel data from 1993 to 2008, the researchers were able to look at the characteristics, circumstances and participation of zero-income SNAP households in comparison to positive-income SNAP households as well as zero-and-positive income households that did not receive SNAP.  In addition, they conducted in-depth interviews with 50 respondents who reported no earnings on their SNAP applications to understand how these recipient households survived without income.

The proportion of able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) among the zero-income SNAP population dropped from 35 percent in 1996 to 18 percent in 2001, largely due to the enactment of time limits on unemployed ABAWDs under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. However, the share of ADAWDs rebounded in 2008 to 31 percent, as the time limits were suspended in most states due to high unemployment rates during the Great Recession.  In 2008, children made up 44 percent of the zero-income SNAP population, up from 31 percent in 1993. This may be due to the decline in receipt of cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) following PRWORA.  Individuals in families with children were more likely than households without children to experience a period of zero earned income while participating in SNAP. Among the in-depth interview sample of 50, 17 respondents had children younger than 18, although only 9 respondents had full custody of their children. While a few of the respondents with children were receiving aid under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) at the time of their interview, only two single parents were enrolled in TANF. Some participants indicated that they did not need cash assistance due to extended support by family or friends, while others were unaware of the possibility of receiving help from TANF.  

Most zero-income SNAP households were only in this status for a short period of time; more than 75 percent of zero-income SNAP adults were able to obtain income of some sort within four months.  Around 30 percent of zero-income SNAP adults listed health or disability issues as the main reason for their recent unemployment. For a majority of SNAP adults, earnings were the most common source of income lost before (62 percent) and gained after (65 percent) a period of zero income. In 2008, around 30 percent of zero-income SNAP adults had completed some post-secondary education, an increase from just 12 percent in 1993. However, the zero-income SNAP population is less educated compared to SNAP recipients with positive incomes.

The in-depth interviews uncovered numerous barriers to employment that zero-income SNAP participants face such as lack of education or credentials, physical and mental health, previous incarceration, and dependent care of other family members. Several respondents who may have qualified for in-kind cash assistance through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Unemployment Insurance did not follow through with applications, describing administrative obstacles and misinformation about eligibility requirements. Respondents also outlined strategies they used to manage their situations, including:

  • Securing housing by living with family and friends, often in exchange for food or housework
  • “Odd jobs” or informal employment, such as housecleaning, babysitting or landscaping  to earn unreported income
  •  Extending SNAP benefits through the month by skipping meals or reducing meal size

These findings have implications for policy. As the unemployment rate falls, the statewide waivers of the time limits on SNAP receipt for ABAWDs will start to expire.  States should plan to provide qualified Employment and Training opportunities to ensure that unemployed individuals who are willing to participate do not lose access to SNAP benefits.  States applying for the newly established SNAP Employment and Training pilots should consider the services needed to help zero-income SNAP households obtain employment, such as vocational training, subsidized employment, and support services including assistance in applying for other benefits for which the individual may qualify. As SNAP continues to prove successful in alleviating poverty, particularly among working families, the program’s new Employment and Training pilots offer great promise as an important tool for helping recipients who struggle to obtain and keep a job.

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