In Focus: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Jan 4, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

New Orleans Advocates Push for State Waivers on SNAP Time Limit

By Helly Lee

Leading up to Thanksgiving, a rotating group of Louisiana advocates and religious leaders, organized by Stand with Dignity and the New Orleans Worker's Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ), engaged in a 15-day fast to protest Governor Jindal’s refusal to apply for a waiver of time limits that would leave about 31,000 Louisiana residents at risk of losing food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). These organizations also created a petition that has garnered over a thousand signatures and filed a lawsuit against the Jindal Administration. While Jindal has held fast in his refusal, incoming Governor John Bel Edwards announced this week that he will apply for waiver as soon as he takes office next month. He further committed that he would, “take the next year to work with DCFS and the Louisiana Legislature to develop programs that offer workforce training and assistance to those on SNAP.”

Since 1996, SNAP receipt has been limited to 3 months in a 36 month period for certain childless individuals who are not working or participating in a qualifying work or training activity for 20 hours or more per week, known as Able Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs). In the recession, most states received a state-wide waiver, meaning that the time limit did not apply due to high unemployment across the country. However, as the economy recovers, these state-wide waivers will largely be going away in most states (many states will still be eligible for partial waivers in areas of high unemployment within the state). CBPP has estimated that nearly 1 million low income individuals will lose critical nutrition support in 2016 due to these time limits.

Louisiana is one of only a few states whose unemployment rates remain high enough that it qualifies for a state-wide waiver. However, Governor Jindal has refused to apply for this waiver.  This decision disproportionately impacts people of color who are most likely to be unemployed and low income. In New Orleans, 52% of Black men are out of work, and Louisiana continues to have one of the highest income inequality rates in the nation. Moreover, while the value of work has been touted as the reason for ending the waiver, the Jindal administration has not made plans to offer employment and training programs to all the individuals affected by the time limit.

Louisiana started counting months toward the time limit in October, meaning that SNAP recipients could begin to lose benefits as soon as January 1. While Edwards has pledged his support for continuing food stamp access for individuals facing the time limit on SNAP, he does not take office until on January 11. It is not yet clear whether it will be possible to prevent individuals from being cut off.  However, Edwards has pledged to provide retroactive benefits if needed.

Louisiana is not the only state where Governors have failed to apply for time limit waivers that are available. Some states have gone as far as passing state legislation to prohibit the state from taking up the waivers they are eligible for in times of high unemployment. What the success in Louisiana reiterates is that advocacy makes a difference. As other advocates face similar pushback from their states, they should draw heart from the effective campaign conducted in Louisiana, and call public attention to the short-sighted and counterproductive choice to deny needed food benefits to low-income individuals in areas of high unemployment.

SNAP is a critical support for millions of low-income Americans. It provides support for one of the most basic necessities of life. Let’s make sure that millions are not starting off the new year with uncertainty about how they will make ends meet this year without critical nutrition support.  

Dec 14, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Food Insecurity is a Year-Round Problem

By Nune Phillips

December is a peak time for charitable giving. As we gather for the holidays to enjoy food and tradition, many of us are drawn to help families and children who are hungry. While these efforts are generous and necessary, many families need assistance beyond the holidays—and beyond what charity can provide. In a recently released book, $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, researchers Katheryn Edin and Luke Shaefer describe the struggles of families living in extreme poverty in America. The Coalition on Human Needs will host a special webinar on December 22 with the authors and a panel of experts, which will highlight their findings.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 48.1 million Americans (14 percent of all households) suffered from food insecurity at some point during 2014, meaning they had limited access to adequate food due to lack of money and other resources. These individuals may run out of food, cut portion sizes, or skip meals altogether. A recent White House report documents the severe consequences of food insecurity for children, including those who are not born yet. A lack of adequate food for pregnant women affects in utero development. And during critical development years, a lack of food impairs a child’s physical and cognitive health and affects their ability to learn in school. For adults, food insecurity increases health problems and contributes to academic and workplace challenges.

Several nutrition programs exist to support those in need, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP serves over 46 million individuals with a modest monthly benefit for food purchases, without which families would fall further into poverty. SNAP reduces food insecurity by 5-10 percent, according to analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Although SNAP increases families’ access to food, the modest monthly benefit does not eliminate insecurity. Many SNAP recipients turn to charitable sources, such as food banks, particularly at the end of the month when they may have exhausted their benefits. Food banks provide vital services to their communities, but, as Kate Maehr of the Greater Chicago Food Depository testified this year, they cannot replace national nutrition programs.

For those of us fortunate to enjoy meals with loved ones this season, we should be grateful for what we have and remember the families who are food insecure. In a country where excess is the norm, especially during the holidays, we must ensure all individuals, especially children, can access to nutritious meals that support healthy development. That includes strengthening SNAP and other essential programs. Whether it’s the holidays or the summer, no one should go hungry in America.


Oct 29, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Targeted Medicaid Enrollment Reaches More Children

By Suzanne Wikle

The rate of children without health insurance has hit an all-time low of 6 percent, according to a new report from the Center for Children and Families. The drop is largely attributable to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to states’ efforts to increase enrollment. States that have opted to expand Medicaid to low-income adults saw the largest improvement in children’s coverage, even though most uninsured children were already eligible for health insurance under Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) prior to ACA. The report uses American Community Survey data from 2014, the first full year of ACA implementation.

All Medicaid expansion states saw a decline in uninsured children, with an average decrease nearly twice that of non-expansion states. Much of the increase in children’s enrollment, especially in Medicaid expansion states, is likely due to enrollment of children who were already eligible. This is often referred to as the “welcome mat” effect. Multiple factors drive this effect, including increased awareness of Medicaid and automatic enrollment of children when their parents apply. Rhode Island and Colorado, two of the states with the greatest declines, were participants in the Work Support Strategies initiative, a targeted effort to coordinate programs to maximize enrollment of eligible children and adults.

In addition to the welcome mat effect, states can explore using three targeted enrollment options. As outlined in May 2013 guidance and extended as part of the August 2015 guidance, states can request a waiver to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) data to identify those who are likely eligible for Medicaid. States may also use the waiver to identify newly eligible parents of children enrolled in Medicaid. Six states (AR, CA, IL, NJ, OR, WV) have used these strategies to enroll a total of 726,584 people.

A newer option provided to states in August 2015 allows the use of SNAP data to identify a smaller group of people who are certainly eligible for Medicaid. States must submit a State Plan Amendment to employ this strategy, which can be used on an ongoing basis for Medicaid enrollments and renewal s.

States that have not expanded Medicaid for adults can still use a version of targeted enrollment known as “Express Lane Eligibility,” which automatically determines children eligible for health insurance based on SNAP receipt.

West Virginia’s data demonstrates the impact of targeted enrollment strategies.

In 2013, prior to ACA implementation, West Virginia had a relatively low rate of uninsured children at 5.3 percent. This makes their  post-ACA rate (3 percent in 2014) all the more remarkable.  As the rate of uninsured children declines, it’s typically more difficult to identify those who are eligible yet uninsured, and broad public awareness or outreach strategies become less effective.

West Virginia coupled its Medicaid expansion with the state waiver targeted enrollment option. The state used SNAP data to identify people likely eligible for Medicaid, as well as targeted parents of children already enrolled in Medicaid.

Because income eligibility limits are similar for Medicaid and SNAP, the SNAP strategy employed by West Virginia is an effective way for states to identify who is likely to be eligible for Medicaid, conduct outreach to those individuals, and receive their consent for enrollment. This strategy may be especially effective at identifying children who are not enrolled in Medicaid despite traditionally being eligible. Using SNAP and other targeted strategies, West Virginia successfully enrolled 70,574 people in Medicaid.  Among all states, West Virginia saw the largest percent decline in the number of uninsured children from 2013 to 2014 (43.7 percent).

More states should follow the lead of West Virginia and use existing data to identify those who are likely eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled in the program.

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