Food Assistance at Risk

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A proposal being considered by Congress could eliminate food assistance for almost 4 million Americans, including seniors, children, people with disabilities, and veterans. Yet more than 1.6 million people still live in poverty in Michigan and 424,000 cannot find work in this still struggling economy. Cutting food assistance funding would hurt families and jeopardize Michigan’s fragile economic recovery.

In September the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as Food Assistance in Michigan, by almost $40 billion over the next 10 years. This is in sharp contrast to the $4 billion in cuts over the same period contained in the bipartisan Senate Farm Bill that passed this past summer. The cuts in the House SNAP bill are found in very harmful provisions that will strike at millions of the most vulnerable Americans and would come on top of an estimated $5 billion in cuts to food assistance when Recovery Act expansions to the SNAP program expire Nov. 1 and 1.7 million Michiganians see their benefits cut by $183 million. Here is an overview of the major SNAP cuts in the House legislation (H.R. 3102):

Paying States for Ending Snap for Poor Families That Cannot Find Work:

Not quite a “work” requirement: This provision introduces a “work” requirement that would allow states to cut off an entire family’s SNAP benefits, including children, if the parent is not working or participating in job training. This is true regardless of the availability of jobs or job training slots and the family can be cut off for an unlimited time.

THE HOUSE BILL uses a carrot-and-stick approach by pushing states to kick families off of SNAP and punishing them if they don’t.

The carrot: States that implement this option would be rewarded by being able to keep up to half of the federal savings found in ending SNAP for these families. States could then use that money for any purpose – including tax cuts and special interest subsidies.

The stick: States that decline to cut families that can’t find work from SNAP would lose all federal matching funds for their SNAP employment and job training programs. This punishes the state and exhibits a total lack of commitment to helping the poorest families get jobs in our still-struggling economy.

Outcome: Despite this provision’s focus on “work” it does not provide any funding for work supports but instead encourages states to remove families from SNAP and rewards the states with money that they can spend however they like.

Cutting Off Unemploymed Childless Adults Even When Jobs Are Scarce:

A three-month time limit: Currently, childless adults without disabilities who receive SNAP are subject to a three-month time limit out of every three years unless the recipient is working or participating in job training at least 20 hours a week.

The waiver: States are allowed a temporary waiver from this time limit in areas with high unemployment. In the wake of the recession, 45 states are currently using this waiver, including Michigan. In fact, Michigan’s history of high unemployment has resulted in the state utilizing the waiver for almost a decade. Even now, approximately 1 in 11 Michiganians are unable to find work in an economy that is simply not producing enough jobs for all that want and need to work.

THE HOUSE BILL eliminates this waiver, regardless of the level of unemployment or lack of jobs.

Outcome: Nationally, 1.7 million people will lose SNAP benefits including 50,000 veterans, even if they want to work and are willing to take a job or participate in a training program, but nothing is available. In Michigan, 212,000 of the poorest adults in the state will lose food assistance in 2014 alone under this provision. The waiver would also become unavailable in the future should unemployment soar again.

Did you know?

These waivers are designed to kick in during periods of high unemployment. As the economy improves, they would automatically end anyway, without this legislation.

Eliminating a Cost-Sharing Option That Helps Poor Working Families With High Child Care and Housing Expenses:

The Categorical Eligibility Option allows states to extend benefits to certain low-income households with gross incomes or assets modestly above federal SNAP limits. States use this option to reduce paperwork, cut administrative costs, serve working families with high child care or shelter costs and allow poor households to retain modest assets. Over 40 states have taken this option, including Michigan.

THE HOUSE BILL eliminates the categorical eligibility option.

Outcome: 2.1 million people would lose SNAP in 2014, as would another 1.8 million over the next decade. In addition, 210,000 children would lose free school meals they were receiving because of categorical eligibility.

 Other Benefit and program Cuts Contained in the Bill Would:

  • Eliminate the “Heat and Eat” option that allows states to simplify the way they determine household eligibility when considering a family’s utility costs. 850,000 households are expected to lose an average of $90 a month in SNAP benefits.
  • Eliminate the current performance incentives system that encourages states to reduce payment errors and improve services to low-income families. Under this system the SNAP error rate for overpayment dropped to just 2.77% in 2012.
  • Permanently deny SNAP to certain ex-offenders for life if they were convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes after the bill’s enactment, regardless of whether they had served their sentence and complied with all terms of release, probation, and parole.
  • Cut funding for nutrition education that promotes healthy eating choices among low-income households.