Why Innovative SNAP E&T Pilots Need More Funding
By Nune Phillips
Over the last several years, states have been working to improve their Employment and Training (E&T) programs operated within the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). These efforts are part of a broader initiative to equip SNAP participants with the necessary training and skills to achieve long-term financial success through employment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has spent time carefully building the infrastructure necessary to support states that want to improve employment prospects for SNAP participants. In addition to a wealth of resources and technical guidance, USDA launched 10 SNAP E&T pilot projects, funded by the 2014 farm bill.
All states are required to operate an E&T program, although they have substantial flexibility to determine their target populations, whether or not to mandate engagement, and which activities they choose to provide for those wanting to get a job or a better job. SNAP E&T is meant to provide SNAP participants the opportunity to increase their skills, complete training, and enhance their education so they can secure a job to support themselves and their families. Congress authorized $200 million in the 2014 farm bill to implement and evaluate pilot projects to test new and improved E&T programs. The three-year pilot projects are expected to demonstrate which program designs and services are most effective at helping SNAP participants in attaining meaningful employment, and an interim report highlighted the challenges and accomplishments thus far.
States devised many approaches to meet the needs of their participants. Kentucky built partnerships with workforce development and adult education providers, as well as community colleges, essentially from the ground up. Vermont developed a technology access point for providers to better manage participant activity and streamline communication across multiple organizations. Washington cultivated communication channels and instituted regular check-ins with providers to allow for timely sharing of best practices and solutions to problems. California’s Fresno County has evaluated the barriers to participant engagement and is developing the right supports to ensure E&T participants can successfully complete the training and education necessary for long-term success.
Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) recently introduced H.R. 3577, which would provide additional funding for E&T initiatives over the next 10 years. The Results Through Innovation Act of 2017 would require projects receiving this additional funding to improve employment outcomes, increase earnings, model a two-generation approach, target particularly hard-to-serve populations, and ease the transition to employment with additional support. The bill funds additional state and county projects that are designed to determine which service models and holistic approaches will ensure long-term employment success for SNAP participants.
SNAP E&T funding provides states and localities with the opportunity to help participants gain skills and advance their education. When done well and offered to those who opt-in voluntarily, these programs have the potential to help the many people on SNAP who work in low-wage jobs advance their careers, along with those who need additional skills to secure available jobs. For some, SNAP E&T provides a path to increased education, training, and skills development. Additional funds through the Results Through Innovation Act of 2017 to support SNAP E&T in well-designed and carefully crafted programs will help both states and SNAP participants.