Empire Justice Budget Memo: Improving Access to SNAP

Empire Justice March 25, 2015

Relieve the Burden on Emergency Food Providers and Help Vulnerable Families Stretch Their Budgets

We have been privileged to work with OTDA and other anti-hunger partners over the course of many years, helping to shape important policy decisions to improve access to SNAP.  Some initiatives that we have worked in the past include:   removing the finger imaging requirement for SNAP and raising the income limits for working families who pay child care costs.

In his opportunity agenda, Governor Cuomo acknowledged that over 3 million New Yorkers are food insecure.  We were pleased to see that he allocated additional funding to the state’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP), bringing total funding for HPNAP to approximately $34.5 million.

While an increase will certainly help our food pantries and soup kitchens, much broader relief is desperately needed.  Due to cuts on the federal level to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), New York has experienced a staggering loss of $365 million in federal food assistance over the past year.  That’s $365 million LESS coming into New York in 2014 than in 2013.  These were cuts in household benefits – cuts that resulted in households turning to the already stretched emergency food network. [1]

How can New York obtain broader anti-hunger relief without tapping out limited state and county dollars?  It’s simple.  New York can take advantage of options available to it to further streamline and expand access to SNAP, which is 100% federally funded.

Some steps that New York could take now:

1.  Adopt seamless transfer of SNAP cases when families move from one county to another.  Across New York State, more than 32,000 households per year have their SNAP cases closed simply because they move to another county. [2]  The unnecessary termination of cases because of a move between counties means that the household may suffer a needless lapse in benefits even though they remain eligible and in need.  Requiring SNAP households to reapply and wait up to 30 days for benefits when moving between counties also means that the Department of Social Services in the new county is required to repeat the application process of the prior county even though the household was continuously eligible.  New York should adopt a “seamless transfer” policy which would allow SNAP cases to be automatically transferred to the new county of residence.  This will maximize the availability of benefits to SNAP recipients and the efficiency of the counties processing SNAP applications.

2.  Improve access to SNAP for low income college students.  New York should allow students enrolled in a Perkins-eligible course of study to have their college studies count as a SNAP employment and training activity.  Currently, many of these individuals are not eligible because they are not working at least 20 hours per week or receiving work study.  Treating college study as an approved employment and training activity would mean that the individual qualifies as an eligible student under SNAP rules.  Massachusetts adopted a very successful project targeted specifically toward community college students, which allowed many more of them to access SNAP.  New York should follow their lead.

a.  Concrete steps toward that goal:

i.  Develop a statewide form to help districts identify and verify Perkins-eligible students.  The form gets completed by the student’s college and returned to the SNAP office.  Here is Massachusetts’ form: http://www.masslegalservices.org/system/files/library/CCE-1.pdf-requirements.

ii.  Inform local districts that they can expand access to college students by:

1. Including Perkins-eligible college study as an allowable E&T activity in their local employment plan, and
2. Giving the statewide form to the student.

3.  Further expand categorical eligibility for SNAP (raising the gross income limit) to 150% FPL for all working households.  Right now, working households lose eligibility for SNAP at 130% FPL unless they have child care expenses or contain an elderly or disabled household member.  Raising the income limit to 150% FPL would allow more working families to qualify for federal food assistance to help them put food on their table.

a.  Examples:

i.  Mom, dad, 8 year old child.  Dad works and earns $2,474/month ($29,685) – 150% FPL.  They pay $1000/month in rent.

1. Currently, they are over income for SNAP.
2. They would qualify for $111/month in SNAP if we expanded categorical eligibility to 150% FPL.

a.The child would also qualify for free school meals.

3.  Earnings of 138% FPL (expanded Medicaid level for adults – $2,276) = $158/month in SNAP.

ii.  Married couple, no children.  Earning $1,967/month – 150% FPL, paying $700/rent.

1. They could get $78/month in SNAP if eligibility were expanded to 150% FPL.
2. The same couple earning 138% FPL (expanded Medicaid level) = $116/month in SNAP.

iii.  Single adult.  Income at $1,459/month, at 150% FPL.  Pays $600/rent.

1. Could get $37/month in SNAP.
2. At 138% FPL (expanded Medicaid level – $1,343/month), could get $65/month in SNAP.

For simplicity’s sake, we used examples where all the income is earned.  We recognize that where there is a mix of earned and unearned income, the benefit amounts will be lower.  Additionally, there will be a small number of households with 3 or more people who may still not be able to receive SNAP if they have a small amount of earnings, the majority of their income is unearned and their shelter costs are low (the “zero benefit” households).

4.  Expand access to SNAP for disabled immigrants.  Adults who have attained lawful permanent resident (LPR) status face a 5 year waiting period before they can access SNAP.  Disabled LPRs don’t have to wait 5 years if they are getting a disability based benefit.  Because New York has a large immigrant population, there are most likely thousands of disabled immigrants receiving Safety Net Assistance and/or Medicaid who could potentially qualify for SNAP, and there are potentially several ways for New York to establish that these individuals are receiving a disability based benefit.  One very modest proposal would be to start with immigrants receiving Medicaid community based long term care services, a disability-based benefit which already has a medical assessment process built into it on the Medicaid side, which could “count” for SNAP purposes.  We would be happy to discuss in more detail.

5.  Ensure that Cuban/Haitian Entrants eligible for SNAP receive benefits.  A Cuban or Haitian individual who enters with parole status any time after October of 1980 is considered a Cuban/Hatian Entrant, and is eligible for SNAP benefits without the five year wait and regardless of what their immigration status is at the time of application.  The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has made it clear that this is the case even if the individual has an order of removal and the order of removal is not legally enforceable. Currently, orders of removal cannot be legally enforced as the U.S. has no diplomatic relationship with Cuba.  Ordinarily they will be released under an Order of Supervision.  However, for benefits purposes, they should be treated as Cuban/Haitian Entrants, not as PRUCOL (People Residing Under the Color of Law) as is otherwise the case with noncitizens under Orders of Supervision.  By treating Cubans who initially entered in parole status but who are now under Orders of Supervision as PRUCOL, New York not only denies them access to SNAP but also loses any potential federal contribution to their Medicaid benefits, since PRUCOL is not a federal eligibility category.

End Notes:
 [1] Extrapolated from data available at http://otda.ny.gov/resources/caseload/2013/2013-12-stats.pdf and http://otda.ny.gov/resources/caseload/2014/2014-12-stats.pdf.
 [2] See Why New York Should Adopt Seamless Transfer of Cases When Families Move from One County to Another, available at http://www.empirejustice.org/assets/pdf/policy-advocacy/seamless-continuatin-of-snap.pdf.

For more information, please contact:

Saima Akhtar
Empire Justice Center
119 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY  12210

(518) 462-6831
(518) 935-2852