TANF, SNAP Improvements Come to New York City
By Lavanya Mohan and Elizabeth Lower-Basch
In May, Steven Banks, the new Commissioner under Mayor de Blasio of the Human Resource Administration (HRA), the city’s social services agency, announced key initiatives that will improve access to income supports and training, thereby reducing barriers to self-sufficiency for poor people. In the past, New York City has pioneered innovative anti-poverty programs, such as a pilot that expands the Earned Income Tax credit (EITC) for low-income childless workers, including non-custodial parents. However, the city has not previously focused on improving access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
One of these key HRA initiatives is accepting a federal waiver to ease restrictions for receipt of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) due to high unemployment rates. Without the federal waiver, ABAWDs are subject to strict eligibility rules – only receiving SNAP benefits for three months out of every three years if they are not employed at least 20 hours per week or in a qualifying work activity (for more information, see SNAP Works: SNAP Work Requirements and Time Limits). Childless workers, including non-custodial parents, often do not qualify for any other safety net benefits. The change in rules will affect 40,000 SNAP recipients in New York City who fall within this category.
Another important reform that HRA plans to adopt will allow TANF recipients the opportunity to meet their work requirements by attending school leading to a four-year college degree. This does not remove the time limit on full-time education and training, but lifts the arbitrary limit on the type of degrees that may be counted. TANF recipients will also be able to count school, homework and work-study hours in their employment plan. This reflects a corresponding change in the state rules passed as part of the New York State budget earlier this year.
Along with these reforms, additional measures aim to improve agency follow-up and engagement with SNAP applicants and recipients. The final approved budget met HRA’s request of $9.7 billion, an increase of $195 million from the previous year. The budget will also provide universal free school meals for all students at public middle schools in New York City. CLASP applauds these efforts that decrease barriers poor individuals face as they strive to secure employment and become self-sufficient.