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By Parker Gilkesson Davis

3 min read.

As a former social services caseworker turned SNAP policy expert, I’ve spent years navigating the intricacies of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) interview requirement. Even as a caseworker, I questioned the necessity of interviews, especially for clients who were already familiar with the program, didn’t have questions about SNAP or their case, and had submitted all the necessary information. 

For many clients, the interview process often felt redundant, as it asked the exact questions already covered in the application. Over time, I realized that the primary purpose of these interviews was to detect possible instances of fraud by trying to catch discrepancies between the application and the answers during the interview. While maintaining program integrity is important, it’s essential to note that SNAP fraud is remarkably rare. In fiscal year 2019, only 0.1 percent of SNAP issuances were overpayments based on Intentional Program Violations—which worked out to just a dime for every $100 of SNAP benefits. Moreover, only 0.9 percent were overpayments of any sort, including household and agency errors.  

Meanwhile, the SNAP program reaches, on average, 22 percent of those eligible. That means families are going without the food they need; and administrative burdens like the interview requirement are one of the reasons people find it hard to access SNAP. For example, these interviews are often scheduled without input from the client, which may require them to miss work to attend. Sometimes clients receive notification of their interview date after the actual date has passed.  

The focus on fraud increases the stigma attached to accessing food benefits through SNAP by implying that SNAP participants are thieves who must be watched. In reality, SNAP participants are children, parents, and grandparents. Many have disabilities or are trying to keep their loved ones fed while they are between jobs. They are working in the low-wage jobs that keep our society functioning, as nurses, home health aides, housekeepers, and possibly the friendly cashier at your local coffee shop.  

Despite the low incidence of fraud, caseworkers are required to dedicate significant time and resources to fraud prevention. This focus often overshadows other critical aspects of our work, such as providing trauma-informed care or referring families to additional assistance to address the myriad challenges of living in poverty. 

Removing the interview requirement would not only streamline the application process but also help minimize agency errors. With an interview option, workers can focus their efforts on those clients who need extra support. The time spent on unnecessary interviews can instead be spent on providing essential services to clients, addressing their immediate needs, and connecting them with appropriate resources. This shift in focus from fraud prevention to client-centered care is crucial in creating a more compassionate and effective social services system. 

Caseworkers are often better trained to look for fraud than to provide holistic support and assistance. But in my experience, caseworkers don’t want to spend time on unnecessary interviews that are ineffective at finding what infinitesimal fraud exists. They want to use those critical personal interactions with clients to help their clients find the resources and support they need to thrive. As we work toward an improved SNAP program, we must include an optional interview for those who would benefit from it and ensure that these caseworker jobs are secure, well-paid, and high quality. Caseworkers are essential to the success of SNAP.  

As we advocate for change, it’s vital to recognize the deep investments made in program integrity and the stereotypes that often surround public benefits recipients. Removing unnecessary barriers like the interview requirement is a step toward reorienting our priorities and ensuring that SNAP truly serves those in need with dignity and respect. Efforts to remove the interview requirement specifically for recertification is a nice first step, but our ultimate goal is to strengthen the program so it better serves those who need it by making the SNAP interview optional. This approach aims to uplift SNAP workers and recipients alike, fostering a more compassionate and responsive system that meets the diverse needs of our communities. 

By Brenna Smith, The Baltimore Banner

(EXCERPT)

Advocates worry there won’t always be plentiful funding and benefits theft could outpace budgeted dollars. For example, under the proposed law, the state would have been limited to the initial budget of $8 million last year, leaving $14 million of thefts unreimbursed.

“Ultimately, that means a family is then left without the money to afford groceries, to meet their bills, and some really hard financial choices,” said Center for Law and Social Policy benefits expert Ashley Burnside.

Read the full article here. 

CLASP submitted a public comment in support of Pennsylvania’s request to CMS to amend the commonwealth’s Section 1115 Medicaid demonstration waiver. We specifically lent our insights and expertise in support of the following proposals:

  1. Reentry supports for incarcerated individuals 90 days prior to release;
  2. Housing supports for homeless individuals with serious mental illness, substance use disorder, chronic health conditions, and people reentering society from correctional institutions;
  3. Food and nutrition supports to provide medically tailored meals and address food insecurity impacting pregnancy;
  4. Multi-year continuous coverage for children under 6 years of age.

CLASP supports Pennsylvania’s waiver application, particularly its proposals in support of the commonwealth’s goal to address health-related social needs (HRSN) and ensure consistent health care access for young children.

Read the comment here.

By , Teen Vogue

(EXCERPT)

“Young workers can end up in precarious situations that open them up to exploitation by unscrupulous employers,” Sapna Mehta, former senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), tells Teen Vogue.

Read the full article here. 

By Nicolas Martinez

4 min read.

Last night, President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress to discuss the administration’s priorities over the next year. CLASP tuned in to watch and give live updates and reactions during the speech on Twitter (X). Today, we’re reviewing some of the best moments of last night and applauding several policies that would help create a more equitable economy that helps families, workers, people of color, and young people thrive.

Here are the top highlights of what we were looking at:

The PRO Act

Since the 2023 State of the Union address, we’ve seen a notable surge in labor organizing activities, yet the increase in union membership remains virtually unchanged. Workers still face an ongoing struggle and lack the effective collective bargaining power they deserve. Current policies continue to be barriers, allowing employers to exploit and ignore workers, which impedes workers’ ability to advance tangible union contracts. CLASP urges Congress to pass the #PROAct to safeguard and empower workers. Through organizing efforts, strikes, and labor actions, workers are voicing their demands for enhanced union access, stronger labor laws, protections for gig workers, and safer workplaces. Now is the time for Congress to act.

Since the last #SOTU, we’ve seen a surge in labor organizing efforts yet virtually no increase in union membership. Harsh truth persists: even with such job growth, countless hardworking individuals continue to lack the collective bargaining power they deserve. #StateOfTheUnion

— CLASP (@CLASP_DC) March 8, 2024

“Pass the PRO Act!”#SOTU2024 https://t.co/bhy9ubqlmJ

— ‘Indi’ Dutta-Gupta (@IndivarD) March 8, 2024

“Unions built the middle class”. Yes, and we’ve turned our back on working people over the past half century: https://t.co/HX4OsU9U9f #SOTU2024

— ‘Indi’ Dutta-Gupta (@IndivarD) March 8, 2024

> Read more about CLASP’s work on worker justice

Child Tax Credit

We applaud President Biden for prioritizing the Child Tax Credit (CTC), as it serves as a pivotal tool for investing in the well-being of children and families. The program reduced child poverty by half in 2021, an unprecedented drop that should not go unnoticed. The CTC is a critical program for families dealing with financial strain, and its expansion demonstrated a commitment to the nation’s children. Every child deserves a fair start regardless of their family’s income. The CTC is an important tool for achieving economic justice and building the fundamental foundation of our nation’s economic success. National surveys that CLASP conducted show that the expanded CTC significantly helped families, and Congress made a mistake in ending the monthly payments.

The #childtaxcredit is an opportunity to invest in children and families through our tax code. When it was expanded in 2021, it dramatically reduced child poverty. @burnsideashley1 of #SOTUwithCLASP #SOTU2024 #ChildTaxCredit https://t.co/tK9z3gXwJU

— CLASP (@CLASP_DC) March 8, 2024

“No child in this country should go hungry.” – POTUS Yes, never forget the power of the enhanced #ChildTaxCredit–cutting poverty nearly in half. Let’s expand it again. #SOTU2024

— ‘Indi’ Dutta-Gupta (@IndivarD) March 8, 2024

The #ChildTaxCredit cut the child poverty rate IN HALF in 2021. It is rare to see policy have such incredible and dramatic impacts. Let’s make the #CTC expansions permanent.#SOTUwithCLASP #SOTU2024 #SOTU

— Ashley Burnside (@burnsideashley1) March 8, 2024

>>Read more about CLASP’s work on the Child Tax Credit.

Paid Leave for All

Our economy cannot move forward and prosper without care work in mind. That’s why we urge Congress to pass the FAMILY Act, because we know our economy can only flourish once we have #PaidLeaveForAll. CLASP applauds the focus on paid leave policies that enable parents to nurture their children without stress or financial strain. Families shouldn’t have to make the unthinkable choice between keeping their jobs or caring for their children and loved ones. Despite some progress through state and local policies, tens of millions of workers are left with impossible choices today. Only national policymakers can fully address these failures and shortcomings. Congress should move expeditiously to pass these bills into law.

Paid leave is crucial for families because it allows parents to bond with their new child without worrying about lost income. It’s a vital time for both parent and infant well-being. #SOTUwithCLASP #SOTU2024 #StateOfTheUnion #PaidLeaveForAll https://t.co/HZwsowB7AB https://t.co/prnV6l1sFT

— CLASP (@CLASP_DC) March 8, 2024


>> Read more about CLASP’s work on paid family and medical leave.

Reproductive Justice

The Dobbs decision has profoundly impacted individuals across the United States. Restrictions on abortion access not only endanger lives but also pose serious risks to public health. Disproportionate harm comes to people of color and people with low incomes who face systemic barriers to health care, including limited access to abortion, inadequate paid family leave and child care, and low wages. It is critical to legalize abortion, address systemic inequities, and ensure access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

It’s essential that #abortion is legal, but that’s not enough. Decades of the #Hyde Amendment and other restrictions denied people abortion care even when it was legal. #SOTU2024 #StateOfTheUnion

— CLASP (@CLASP_DC) March 8, 2024

>> Read more of CLASP’s work on reproductive justice.

 

Child Care

Ensuring access to affordable and accessible child care and early education opportunities is important for families to flourish and the economy to thrive. We must make meaningful investments to turn this necessity into reality for families nationwide. The recent implementation of the new Child Care and Development Fund final rule is a significant milestone, expected to reduce costs for 100,000 families. This step forward acknowledges the pressing need for a system that better serves the needs of families and child care providers alike, and we express gratitude to the administration for its efforts in making this progress possible.

Imagine it, #ChildCare, #ElderCare, #PaidLeave & addressing interconnected systems of care. Imagine how this will strengthen well-being, economic mobility, access to higher ed/job training, parents & caregivers having a break & peace of mind. #SOTU2024

— Alycia Hardy (@ahardyMPA17) March 8, 2024

>>Learn more about CLASP’s work on child care.

Immigration

While President Biden’s State of the Union address prioritized many critical policies that would help working families thrive, the speech made it clear that the administration will continue down a path of enforcing harmful and failed immigration policies rather than strengthen our country by supporting and welcoming immigrants. While the Biden Administration has taken some important actions to support immigrants, its consistent pattern has been one step forward and three steps back.

The policies @POTUS is championing – asylum bans, expedited removal – will only worsen the problems we’ve been facing due to our country’s decades of failed immigration policy. #StateOfTheUnion

— CLASP (@CLASP_DC) March 8, 2024

>> Read more on CLASP’s reaction to President Biden’s stance on immigration in our newest blog.

By Makayla McDonald and Ashley Burnside

4 min read.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of many people across the globe, and its emotional, mental, and financial effects continue to reverberate. The pandemic also demonstrated the power of lawmakers to make a positive impact: Material hardship dropped after the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, due to the federal government investing in Americans through programs like the economic impact payments, the expanded Child Tax Credit, and the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit.   

But there is more work to do, particularly as many of those effective policies have been reversed or discontinued. The Guaranteed Income Pilot Program Act of 2023 is one of the many plans that lawmakers have introduced to help improve the lives of many people in the United States. The Young Adult Tax Credit Act is another innovative bill that will invest in young people and promote economic opportunity. CLASP and New Deal for Youth are excited to endorse both of these policies for their potential to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

The Guaranteed Income Pilot Program Act comes as two-thirds of Americans report being worried they would not be able to cover their living expenses for one month if they lost their primary income source. This is in addition to real wages failing to keep families afloat due to inflation. 

The act would establish a three-year nationwide program to “test the viability of a federally funded income support program to prevent American families from facing permanent financial fallout and poverty from a single unexpected crisis.” Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) is the sponsor for the legislation, along with nearly a dozen co-sponsors. 

The law would implement monthly cash payments to 20,000 individuals. The cash payment would equal the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the recipient’s ZIP code. There would also be a control group of 10,000 participants to compare the effects of economic security. The pilot program would be available to individual taxpayers ages 18-65. 

While we are eager to implement a federal guaranteed income program that reaches all eligible individuals, we are excited for this pilot program, which will measure the impacts of providing guaranteed income benefits to a smaller population and build momentum for the policy. We appreciate that the bill would tie the monthly payment to fair market rents, which acknowledges both the high costs of living in our nation and how rent often represents a disproportionately large portion of a family’s monthly budget.

We are also excited to endorse legislation that would implement a universal, monthly tax credit for young people. Representative Morgan McGarvey (D-KY) has introduced the Young Adult Tax Credit Act. This bill is designed based on lessons learned from a Louisville guaranteed income pilot and was developed in consultation with young people, including New Deal for Youth Changemakers. We applaud Representative McGarvey for collaborating with young people while developing the legislation. 

The Young Adult Tax Credit Act would provide a universal $500 monthly payment to all 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States, including its territories. The payment would be an advanced, refundable tax credit provided by the IRS and would be available to anyone who has a Social Security number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The bill would also direct the IRS to conduct targeted outreach about the program to ensure that all young people know about the payments and how to access them, including those who are unbanked and/or less likely to file taxes.

Creating a universal program, rather than targeting the benefit based on factors such as income, will ensure that the tax credit is an investment in all young people. A universal benefit reduces the risk that the program will mandate burdensome eligibility and documentation requirements to receive the payment, making the program easier to both administer and access. However, creating a fully universal benefit also increases the total recipient population and the program cost. Letting children and families remain in poverty also has immense costs for our society in both the short and long-term. Lawmakers should consider these tradeoffs.

Implementing a refundable tax credit targeted at young people is critical because young adults are largely left out of our nation’s current anti-poverty programs. In addition, young adults face poverty at high rates when compared to other age groups. According to the Official Poverty Measure, 15.3 percent of young adults ages 18 through 24 were living under the Federal Poverty Line as of 2022. When using the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), the rate increases to 17.7 percent of all young people; but 22.5 percent of young people of color lived in poverty as measured by the SPM. The expanded CTC that was temporarily implemented in tax year 2021 cut child poverty nearly in half, especially benefitting Black and Latino kids. The Young Adult Tax Credit has the potential to dramatically reduce poverty for young adults, especially for young adults of color.

Both the Guaranteed Income Pilot Act and the Young Adult Tax Credit Act would provide substantial investments to young people. A New Deal for Youth envisions a world where the economy is designed to uplift all young people and abolish structural barriers. The Guaranteed Income Pilot Act and the Young Adult Tax Credit Act would accomplish this by providing young people with unrestricted investments. CLASP and A New Deal for Youth urge Congress to pass these bills to invest in and support young people.

By India Heckstall, Emily Andrews, and Kathy Tran 

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is a pivotal investment in workforce development. Yet it also perpetuates occupational segregation and systemic racism, hindering equitable access to quality jobs. The proposed reauthorization bill, A Stronger Workforce for America Act (ASWA), unfortunately maintains the status quo and fails to address crucial issues. This brief highlights ASWA’s shortcomings and offers groundbreaking solutions to enhance WIOA, paving the way for a more inclusive and worker-centered workforce development system. 

>> Read the brief here

By Ashley Burnside

(EXCERPT)

Despite a supposedly strong economy, many families remain just one financial shock away from personal financial crisis. A lack of affordable and accessible childcare, wages that haven’t kept up with rising housing costs, and a lack of access to paid family leave are just a few factors contributing to this precarity.

Read the full article here. 

By the CLASP Income & Work Supports Team

5 min read.

The Income & Work Supports team at CLASP works to advance public benefits justice, and Black History Month has us thinking about the history of economic injustice in this country. The economic injustices caused by slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, and continued racism profoundly affect Black families today. Reminder: the time in America’s history without slavery or legalized segregation is relatively short.

Every time I see this “timeline” I want to fight. On sight. Several things are terribly wrong. And then someone tweets that it still makes great points. #StudyingSegregation pic.twitter.com/5qkSKEAZ1d

— Blair LM Kelley, PhD (@profblmkelley) May 2, 2021

To truly achieve racial economic justice, we need to be honest about the root causes and do the work: first, a comprehensive reparations strategy that accounts for the economic potential that has been stolen from Black Americans. We also need an anti-racist system of public benefits that truly cares for all people when they experience financial emergencies and supports long-lasting economic security. Just as anti-poverty efforts aim to end or remake structures, systems, and institutions that help create and sustain poverty, anti-poverty efforts that are also anti-racist aim to remake those structures, systems, and institutions that contribute to poverty and racial injustices alike. Read on to better understand how programs have racist foundations and inequitable impact, and what can be done to reverse that legacy.

Stereotypes and false narratives, in particular about Black women, have been used to justify forced labor, bolster white supremacy, and encourage public support of substantial cuts to public benefits programs. Similar false narratives have been wrongly used to justify the exclusion of other populations, including formerly incarcerated people, immigrants, and students. We need to see policy decisions on a federal level that remove exclusions and diversionary methods which discourage people from applying to public benefits.

For immigrants, accessing public benefits can be particularly fraught. Federal restrictions and fear of immigration complications mean that Black immigrants face additional hurdles despite their high rates of participation in the labor force. Historical context shows that anti-poverty policy in America is intertwined with anti-Blackness, xenophobia, and other forms of racism.

Housing

The United States’s first housing programs excluded most Black people from federally-backed loans that made homeownership more affordable, which is a key reason why the racial wealth and homeownership gaps are so wide today. These programs also created segregated public housing. Black people are 30 percent less likely to be able to afford a home than white people, relegating over half of Black people to the rental market. One-third of Black renters spend more than 50 percent of their incomes on rent.

Racial disparities in homeownership rates and housing insecurity are born from decades of the federal and local governments failing to invest in Black homes and neighborhoods, or, in the worst cases, actively sabotaging or demolishing them. As the Black Panthers wrote: “[…] if the White Landlords will not give decent housing to our Black community, then the housing & the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for its people.”

We can’t keep depending on the private rental market to supply enough affordable housing. In fiscal year 2025 appropriations, Congress must prioritize a reinvestment in public housing and begin to build a federal infrastructure to support social housing.

Cash Assistance and Tax Credits

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides monthly cash assistance to families with very low incomes. TANF can help parents afford essentials like food and diapers. But many of the program’s eligibility requirements are rooted in racist stereotypes. TANF work requirements are rooted in paternalistic, anti-Black stereotypes about people living in poverty needing to be forced to work. State and federal lawmakers should remove the program’s work requirements to better promote access and equity. The origins of work requirements hark back to slavery and the white backlash to Reconstruction. It is thus unsurprising that research shows that Black TANF participants are more likely to be sanctioned than white participants. The size of TANF monthly benefits vary on a state-by-state basis, and Black children are more likely to live in the states that provide the lowest benefits. In all states, TANF benefits are not enough to meet a family’s monthly expenses.

Nineteen million kids don’t get the full Child Tax Credit (CTC) because their parents earn too little. Due to factors like the wage gap and job discrimination, Black children are more likely to be among those 19 million children. Congress must fix this inequity by making the CTC fully refundable. A fully inclusive and equitable CTCt that is available to families with little to no earnings would reduce child poverty and promote race equity. CLASP will continue advocating for expansions to the CTC to make it more inclusive.

Health Care

Medicaid is a vital program for more than 80 million people. This is especially true for the 60% of Black children insured by Medicaid. Without Medicaid, millions of children – disproportionately children of color – wouldn’t have access to affordable health care, well-child visits, routine immunizations, and other wellness needs. Medicaid is absolutely essential to children’s well-being in America. But it’s also a program often fraught with administrative burdens, cumbersome paperwork, and judgment. Many of these obstacles to enrollment are rooted in systemic racism that has been embedded in Medicaid throughout the program’s history.

Progress is being made, but there’s still work to do. Ultimately, achieving health equity depends in large part on equitable access to health insurance. We must work toward everyone having access to health care without unnecessary administrative burdens and stigma attached.

Food

Public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provide critical resources and support for families with low incomes. Yet even as public benefit programs mitigate the hardships caused by economic and social exclusion, they also reinforce the underlying structures of oppression. Adequate access to food is economic and racial justice. People of color often live in neighborhoods impacted by food apartheid, where access to healthy and affordable food is limited. Grocery store chains are less likely to invest in Black communities.

The Way Forward

Our team is ready to return to the bold approach that civil rights leaders called for. We are working to make public benefits more equitable and effective, but we are also calling for policies like guaranteed income and the Child Tax Credit, which had an enormous impact on poverty in recent years. We’re also fighting to make programs like SNAP and Medicaid anti-racist. We envision a future with true economic justice for all–where everyone’s basic needs are abundantly met and everyone has the opportunities and resources to flourish. We envision a system of public benefits that is accessible, equitable, reparative, responsive, easy-to-navigate, and co-created with directly impacted people.

As we reimagine public benefits, we must center restitution, repair, trust, dignity, and equity. We will continue this work at CLASP to make public benefit programs anti-racist, while also pushing forward the larger goal of economic justice, which includes meaningful reparations for past and ongoing racial injustice.

A Black History Month Reflection on Key Leaders in the Fight for Civil Rights

As we approach the closing days of Black History Month, now is a good time to reflect on the memories and positive stories associated with the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. But the work started by many of those we honor this month is far from over.

read more

Cash Assistance is a Critical Part of Reproductive Justice

The conversation on reproductive justice has been front and center in many spaces following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Many advocates, organizers, and policymakers have united across issue areas to support reproductive rights—specifically access to safe, affordable, and accessible abortion. However, economic insecurity and poverty are incompatible with reproductive justice.

read more

Challenges to Just and Effective 988 Implementation

Youth and young adults currently face an unprecedented mental and behavioral health crisis that has led to an increase in youth suicide rates, mental and behavioral health concerns, and disconnection from school and work. This series of fact sheets explores the challenges and missed opportunities to effectively implement the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and transform our country’s existing mental and behavioral health crisis response system.

read more

Making USDA More Equitable

In 2022 Elizabeth Lower-Basch was appointed to serve on the USDA Equity Commission, which released its final report today at a meeting where she served as a panelist. In a blog, Elizabeth shares her reflections on the Commission’s work and its 66 recommendations for improving equity in the USDA’s many policies, practices, and programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

read more

This new report examines the pivotal role of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) in addressing the educational needs of students of color, particularly Black immigrants, amid systemic inequities in postsecondary education.

read more

 


CLASP in the News & Partner Blogs

FEBRUARY 21, 2024 | THE HOPE CENTER 

Why we need to rethink the term “student-athlete”

FEBRUARY 14, 2024 | INSIGHT INTO DIVERSITY

Op Ed: SCOTUS Ruling Disproportionately Impacts Opportunities for Black Males

Upcoming Events

February 28: Christian Collins will give a virtual guest lecture to graduate students in the Sports Administration program at UNC-Chapel Hill on his Equal Play, Unequal Pay report. The lecture will also focus on the unique ways that college athletics and public policy intersect.

Recent Events

February 22: Isha Weerasinghe presented to a cohort of 13 state legislators who are part of the Future Caucus on the importance of addressing maternal mental health.

February 13: The Biden-Harris Administration brought together nearly 90 young people from across the nation for the first-ever interagency Youth Policy Summit: Cultivating Possibilities. New Deal for Youth Changemakers and members of CLASP staff served on the youth planning committee, helped with preparation, moderated panels and discussions, and attended the event.

 


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