In Blog: Factually Speaking

Many Americans say they hate government bureaucracy, excessive paperwork and unnecessary spending, but that is what some are pushing for in a vote that will likely take place in the U.S. House of Representatives tomorrow.

At issue are changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food assistance to families and individuals with low incomes, most of whom are either working, looking for work or physically unable to work. SNAP must be reauthorized every five years, and reauthorization provides a time to make policy changes to the program as well as provide the next five years’ funding.

In an election year, telling voters one is going to “make people on Food Stamps* get up and go to work” can make for a good applause line, but it is based on bad policy and the faulty assumption that SNAP recipients do not work.

Far from discouraging work, SNAP is a work support and often functions as a temporary safety net for laid-off workers as they look for workMost lower-paid workers cannot collect Unemployment Insurance, and SNAP helps their families put food on the table until they find a job. For working families with low incomes, SNAP provides some food assistance to help prevent them from being put in a position where they must choose between paying a medical or utility bill and buying adequate groceries. In an average month, more than four-fifths of SNAP households with a working-age, non-disabled adult are either working or between jobs.

However, the feel-good U.S. House proposal requiring all non-disabled, non-elderly SNAP recipients to submit monthly paperwork on the hours they’ve worked, and requiring all states to collect and process such paperworkadds an onerous and ineffective burden on states and recipients. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states, this work requirement expansion “would impose substantial administrative costs on states and reverse 15 years of efforts by federal policymakers and states to make access to the program easier for working families that are juggling work and family obligations.”

It would also increase the amount of paperwork families need to submit (and state workers need to process) to prove they do not have too much money in the bank and that their cars are not worth too much. Many states have reduced this paperwork and made the process more efficient, but the House bill would bring back a top-heavy, one-size-fits-all process for reporting assets. Reducing government bureaucracy, indeed!

It is not too late to call your member of Congress to urge them to oppose parts of this bill and to support amendments to improve the bill. Here is a brief outline of the things in the U.S. House bill that the Michigan League for Public policy opposes—and a couple of things we like:

New Work Requirements and Programs:

  • The League opposes the House bill’s requirement that all SNAP participants age 18-59 (not disabled or raising child under 6)  work and/or participate in a work program at least 20 hours per week and to provide monthly documentation of that work.
  • The League opposes mandating states to set up new work programs to help households meet work requirements, which would cost a lot of money for states and likely duplicate existing programs.
  • The League opposes the implementation of any new work requirements or programs before Congress is given the results of demonstration projects (which are nearing completion and for which Congress appropriated $200 million in FY 2013) to test various approaches to employment services, work programs, and work requirements.

 Asset Limit:

  • The League supports the House bill’s raising of the federal asset limit from $2,250 ($3,250 for households with elderly or disabled) to $7,000 ($12,000 elderly or disabled). Michigan has its own asset limit of $5,000 and would have to adopt the higher federal limit of $7,000 if it were enacted.
  • The League opposes the House bill’s reinstatement of a federal vehicle allowance and taking away states’ ability to establish a higher or more flexible allowance. Michigan has no vehicle value limit for household’s first vehicle and a value limit of $15,000 for the second vehicle, but the House committee bill would impose a $12,000 limit on all vehicles.

 Categorical Eligibility:

  • The League opposes the House bill’s elimination of expanded categorical eligibility, which lets certain households who receive other assistance receive SNAP if their gross income is below 200% (instead of 130%) of poverty. According to CBPP, 20,000 households and 45,000 individuals in Michigan would lose SNAP eligibility if it were eliminated.

 Child Support Enforcement:

  • The League opposes the House bill’s requirement that parents or guardians not living with the child’s other parent cooperate with child support enforcement in order to receive SNAP benefits. (It is currently a state option and Michigan is currently one of six states that takes this option.)
  • The League supports eliminating a state option to sanction noncustodial parents who are in arrears on child support payments. (Michigan takes this option.)

Mandating Transitional Benefits:

  • The League supports the House bill’s requirement that all states provide five months of transitional SNAP benefits to families that leave TANF cash assistance without requiring them to reapply or submit additional paperwork. (This is currently a state option. Michigan does not take this option because all cash assistance recipients are categorically eligible for SNAP and most continue to receive SNAP after leaving cash assistance.)

Increasing Earned Income Deduction:

  • The League supports the House bill’s increase of the earned income deduction (used to calculate benefits) from 20% to 22% of earnings, which gives a modest benefit increase to households with earnings.

*Although the name of the program was changed from the Food Stamp Program to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program nearly ten years ago, some politicians continue to use the former name, perhaps due to its pejorative connotations.

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