In Focus: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Aug 27, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

CLASP Announces New Advocacy Initiative to Promote Benefit Access

CLASP is excited to announce Advancing Strategies to Align Programs (ASAP), a new advocacy initiative to help state advocates working to increase enrollment in work support programs, particularly Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as food stamps), through program alignment and information sharing. Drawing on lessons from Work Support Strategies (WSS) and leveraging opportunities created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), this initiative comes at a time when many advocates and states are focused on providing work supports in the most efficient and integrated  manner.

Advocates in five states – Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania – will receive support from CLASP to advocate for improved delivery systems and integration of key work support programs, with a specific emphasis on Medicaid and SNAP. In partnership with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, CLASP will also provide grantees with in-depth technical assistance and share lessons learned from the project with a broader audience of advocates.

Many individuals and families who are eligible for core benefit programs do not participate, and participation rates vary by state. For example, in 2012, 83 percent of Americans eligible for SNAP benefits received them, but in Colorado, only 76 percent received them. National participation rates are lower for the full package of programs; despite the large overlap in eligibility for Medicaid and SNAP, one estimate found that just 58 percent of children who were likely to be eligible for both SNAP and Medicaid received both programs in 2009, while 14 percent received neither. Even among those who receive work supports, people often “churn” on and off benefits, creating instability for families and consuming time and resources of both participants and state agencies.  As demonstrated by WSS, states can expand access and reduce the burden on both participants and states by using information provided to one program to certify or re-determine eligibility for another program.

Increasing participation will ensure low-income people have the health insurance and nutrition support to meet their basic needs and achieve stability, allowing adults to succeed at work and promoting children’s healthy development. A significant and growing body of evidence shows that participation in work support programs improves short- and long-term health, educational, and economic outcomes. Research also suggests that receiving the full package of work support benefits, rather than just a single program, can be of particular importance in helping low-income people stabilize their lives.

The ASAP grantees, selected through a competitive process, have a history of providing a strong advocacy voice in their communities and generating policy and administrative change—often in concert with their state agencies—to improve access to work support programs. ASAP resources will allow advocates to bring a deeper focus to their administrative advocacy, helping them promote state-specific solutions that reduce barriers to benefit access for low-income workers.  CLASP looks forward to supporting these advocates and to sharing lessons learned through this initiative with others around the country.

ASAP Grantees:

Community Legal Services of Philadelphia

Hunger Free Colorado

Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

Aug 19, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Illinois Addresses Benefits Cliff, Raises Gross Income Limit on SNAP

By Randi Hall 

There is overwhelming empirical evidence that the safety net as a whole supports work, particularly for low-income parents. As CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden recently testified to Congress, people are not held back by too much support for work but by too little. Without income supports to help cover child care and housing costs, low-income parents lack the stability needed to maintain employment. However, in some cases, a small increase in earnings can result in a sharp loss of benefits. These eligibility thresholds, sometimes known as “benefits cliffs,” can reduce incentives for low-wage workers to seek better employment opportunities. The benefits cliff can manifest in various public assistance programs, including the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Medicaid (in states that have not taken up the expansion), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

With SNAP, families may experience a benefits cliff when their total income exceeds the “gross income limit.” The state of Illinois has taken an important step toward addressing this issue. Governor Bruce Rauner has signed legislation raising the gross income limit for SNAP eligibility to 165 percent of the federal poverty level, up from 130 percent, using a policy known as broad-based categorical eligibility. The Shriver National Center on Poverty Law estimates that the law will provide access to nutrition assistance to nearly 40,000 working families while bringing in an additional $60 million in federally funded benefits.

As Golden testified, benefit cliffs are ”likely to affect actual work choices, send the wrong signal about our expectations of low-wage workers, and can destabilize workers and their families just when they should be on the path to economic security.” Increasing the gross income limit for SNAP eligibility is a simple way for states to eliminate this cliff. Including Illinois, 28 states and the District of Columbia have already done so. The remaining states should follow their lead to ensure low-wage workers aren’t punished with the loss of benefits when they receive a promotion or additional work hours. 

Jul 22, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Alabama and Texas Lift Bans on Public Assistance for Individuals Previously Convicted of Drug-Related Crimes

By Randi Hall

The 1990s “War on Drugs” led to the implementation of laws that single out individuals previously convicted of drug-related felonies for disproportionate and lasting penalties.  The 1996 welfare law denied such individuals access to both cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and nutrition assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), unless states chose to opt-out or modify the ban.  Most states have done so, recognizing that these bans are unjustified as a “double punishment” for individuals who have completed their prison term while making it harder for  people to readjust to society.

This summer, both Alabama and Texas joined the list of state that have modified or repealed these bans. Starting in January 2016, Alabama will override the full bans that have prohibited individuals from accessing either SNAP or TANF. The Texas law only modified the ban affecting SNAP, but will go into effect in September 2015. Texas SNAP recipients who violate parole or are convicted of another drug-related charge would still be denied further SNAP receipt. Both states passed their respective policy changes via prison and criminal justice reform bills, rather than legislation focused on public assistance programs.

In a policy brief, CLASP has detailed the detrimental consequences of preventing ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society from accessing income and work supports. Parents with a drug felony conviction face economic discrimination when searching for employment, making access to programs like SNAP vital for families with children facing food insecurity.  Moreover, SNAP recipients are eligible for employment and training services under SNAP E&T, which would support ex-offenders in gaining the skills needed to secure stable jobs. Similarly, banning TANF benefits for ex-offenders reduces the cash assistance a family may receive and may also reduce access to other supportive services, such as child care and transportation services, needed to find employment.  The effects of these bans fall lopsidedly on communities of color due to the disproportionate enforcement and prosecution of drug laws in these communities.

As of July 2015, only seven states continue to enforce a full lifetime drug felony ban on SNAP benefits, while twelve states have kept lifetime bans for TANF receipt in place.  CLASP urges the remaining states to reflect on the hardships created by such laws and to lift these bans on public benefits.

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