In Focus: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

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.

Oct 20, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Food and Nutrition Service Releases Q&A on SNAP E&T Pilots

By Helly Lee

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) pilots are a highly anticipated opportunity to develop and implement innovative strategies that can shape and strengthen future policymaking. As interested states and their local partners plan their applications, numerous questions arise about what is allowable under the pilots.

On October 10th, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released part two of their Q&A addressing questions from potential applicants. Topics include work requirements, time limits, pilot participants, screening, and allowable activities. Part one addressed eligible applicants, maintenance of effort, pilot funding versus 50-percent reimbursements, supplanting, financial questions, and evaluation design. The Q&A provides information that can help states and their local partners fine tune their applications to ensure they align with the goals of the pilots and the guidance detailed in the Request for Applications (RFA).

According to the Q&A, only state agencies that administer SNAP are eligible to apply for the pilots; however, they may partner with other local entities and clearly describe their respective roles in the application. Partners must also submit a letter of commitment with the application. The opportunity for partnerships between state agencies and local partners is a key feature, fostering collaboration among stakeholders that advances their shared goal: helping SNAP participants enter the workforce or secure better-paying jobs.

While the pilots provide an opportunity to test innovative strategies, state agencies must still adhere to federal rules, including statutory definitions of eligible activities. For example, Able Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWD) who are not working or participating in a qualifying activity are still subject to the three-month time limit on SNAP receipt (unless the pilot is operating in an area that is covered by a waiver of this time limit). Additionally, pilots may not compel individuals to participate if they are already exempt from SNAP work requirements under federal law.  States do have discretion to select participants from the population of work registrants or to serve other SNAP recipients on a voluntary basis. However, no more than 15 percent of participants can be non-work-registrants.

Pilot states are also able to access the 50-percent reimbursement funds available for the SNAP E&T program. In addition to providing pilot grant funds, FNS will continue to reimburse agencies for allowable expenditures that comply with current law and regulations. FNS will offer technical assistance to grantees throughout the process for 50-percent reimbursements. Applicants must indicate the reimbursement amounts anticipated in each year of their pilot project.

The pilots and SNAP E&T 50-percent reimbursement funds are critical resources that allow states to test and highlight strategies that will help SNAP participants enter the workforce or obtain better employment. Interested state SNAP agencies and their partners have until November 24, 2014 to submit their applications. Pilot awardees are anticipated to be announced in February 2015.

For more information about the SNAP E&T pilots, see:

Sep 17, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

House Holds Hearing on SNAP E&T Pilots

By Helly Lee

Today, the House Committee on Agriculture hosted a hearing on the  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training (E&T) pilots created by the 2014 Farm Bill. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack was called to testify before the Committee on the implementation of the pilots.

As we mentioned in a recent blog post, USDA released their Request for Applications (RFA) for the pilots on August 25th. While the implementation of the pilot program is still in its early stages, it was clear at today’s hearing that Congress will be looking at the pilots for innovative and successful strategies that will inform future policy making.  In his testimony and in his answers to the members’ questions, Secretary Vilsack reiterated a few key points:

  • The purpose of the pilots is to better understand the barriers that SNAP participants face and help get more people into work and prepare them for better jobs. The majority of SNAP participants who can work already do, but do not make enough to lift them out of poverty.
  • The guidelines put forth in the RFA cast a wide net for innovative ideas and proposals from states and are designed to allow states and local partners the room to propose creative strategies to help reduce the number of people who need SNAP.
  • There is great emphasis on collaboration. The RFA requires a commitment from applicants to collaborate with State workforce and job training programs. USDA encourages proposals which include strategies that engage workforce, SNAP and other partners.

Secretary Vilsack also mentioned the work that he has already done to engage the Department of Labor and his efforts to directly connect with Governors across the country to inform them of this pilot opportunity. He observed that many Governors told him that they had not been aware of the pilots. This highlights the need for state advocates to also engage high level policymakers to ensure they are aware of the pilots and the opportunity to develop innovative strategies that support SNAP participants.

The deadline for applications is November 24. Applicants may submit questions regarding the RFA to USDA by this Friday, September 19th. USDA asks states intending to apply to submit a letter of intent by following Friday, September 26th.

For more information about SNAP E&T and the pilots, visit CLASP’s SNAP E&T resources page.

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