Fight Over Food Stamps

Williamson/The Washington Post.) The bill the House passed late last week to slash $39 billion in food aid was all about reducing the scope of the federal government, but it could do the opposite for states. The Republican bill eliminates a shortcut states have long used to determine eligibility for food aid provided under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Rather than check whether each a household qualifies for SNAP benefits directly, states have for years been making that determination based on whether they already receive other low-income assistance. The thinking for the practice, known as categorical eligibility, was this: if youve already passed the test for welfare, you probably pass it for food stamps. Instead of running separate eligibility tests for all low-income assistance programs, states have been allowed to streamline the process. Categorical eligibility was seen as advancing the goals of simplifying administration, easing entry to the program for eligible households, emphasizing coordination among low-income assistance programs, and reducing the potential for errors in establishing eligibility for benefits, Congresss research arm, the Congressional Research Service, wrote in a report about the practice last week. Forty statesred ones and blue oneshave embraced the broadest form of categorical eligibility, it found. Under the Republican House bill, however, that shortcut would be restricted yielding $11 billion in savings over a decade as households are discouraged or deemed ineligible for the benefits. An estimated 2.1 million people will lose benefits next year alone, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. But while the federal governments payouts will shrink, cash-strapped states will have to start conducting more determination tests. This limitation in categorical eligibility would increase state administrative costs in SNAP and significantly curtail state flexibility, the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures wrote in a May letter responding to a similar provision. Earlier this month, the American Public Human Services Association, a group whose membership includes SNAP administrators, echoed the sentiment. States have become more efficient in determining eligibility under the current SNAP rules, APHSA wrote in a letter to House and Senate leadership.

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The monthly amount a family gets depends on the household’s size, earnings and expenses, as well as changing food prices and other factors. Households can qualify for help with earnings up to 30% higher than the federal poverty level, making the limit about $30,000 for a family of four this year. These households are limited to no more than $2,000 in savings, or $3,250 if there are elderly or disabled residents. In addition, most states allow people to qualify automatically for food stamps if they are eligible for certain other welfare programs, even if they don’t meet the strict SNAP standards. Although food stamps are paid for with federal tax dollars, states administer the program and have some choices in setting requirements. Language in Clinton’s 1996 welfare overhaul required able-bodied adults who aren’t raising children to work or attend job training or similar programs to qualify for food stamps after three months. But those work requirements across most of the nation have been waived for several years because of the high unemployment rate. People who are living in the United States illegally aren’t eligible for food stamps. Most adults who immigrate legally aren’t eligible during their first five years in the country. Rising like yeast The cost to taxpayers more than doubled over just four years, from $38 billion in 2008 to $78 billion last year. Liberals see a program responding to rising need at a time of economic turmoil. Conservatives see out-of-control spending, and many Republicans blame President Barack Obama. While seeking the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, Newt Gingrich labeled Obama the “food stamp president.” Some of the growth can be attributed to Obama’s food stamp policies, but Congress’ budget analysts blame most of it on the economy.

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Above, a store in New York advertises that it accepts food stamps. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Also The Reply: Opinion writers respond to reader comments and letters September 21, 2013 In some political circles, food stamp recipients are portrayed as prone to fraud, too entitled to work or living too comfortably at taxpayers’ expense. Some Times readers couldn’t disagree more. Those who sent us letters to the editor this week were almost unanimous in their opposition to the Republican-controlled House’s vote to pass a spending cut that would remove nearly 4 million Americans from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, which provides aid to families and individuals who, for a variety of reasons, have significant trouble paying for food. Many said this action amounted to an attack on those who could least afford it; others called it immoral and unprecedented. Here is a selection of those letters. — Paul Thornton, letters editor Altadena resident J.H. Benson questions the GOP ‘s morality: “House Republicans are badly in need of a moral compass. Their hypocrisy is only surpassed by their cruelty. “The GOP says that the 4 million Americans who will be kicked off SNAP are capable of helping themselves. I hope that our very capable farmers aren’t being subsidized while this assistance to the poor is deemed too expensive.” Long Beach resident Matthew Black points out more pressing spending concerns: “The GOP has truly hit a new low. After increasing annual defense spending by more than $300 billion since 2001, spending $2 trillion on unnecessary wars and passing $1.7 trillion in tax cuts between 2001 and 2003 that primarily went to the wealthiest Americans, Republicans need to save $40 billion on food stamps. “Way to go. Why do I feel I’m reading a Charles Dickens novel? “And for those who might reply that Democrats should put their money where their mouths are, this week I donated another $250 to a local food bank.