The Center's work on 'Food Assistance' Issues

The Center designs and promotes polices to make the Food Stamp Program more adequate to help recipients afford an adequate diet, more accessible to eligible families and individuals, and easier for states to administer. We also help states design their own food stamp programs for persons ineligible for the federal program. Our work on the WIC program includes ensuring that sufficient federal funds are provided to serve all eligible applicants and on helping states contain WIC costs. Our work on child nutrition programs focuses on helping states and school districts implement recent changes in how they determine a child’s eligibility for free or reduced-priced school meals.


Ryan’s Rhetoric Doesn’t Match His Proposal’s Reality

July 24, 2014 at 4:55 pm

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan left the impression today that his proposed Opportunity Grant will allow low-income individuals to get income assistance as well as help they may need to go to school, get off drugs, and succeed in the workplace.  That picture, however, doesn’t reflect the reality of his proposal.

Chairman Ryan spoke eloquently this morning about “Andrea,” a single mother who needs income assistance in the near term, help finding a job, assistance so she can go to college, and help paying for child care for her two young children while she works and attends school so she can reach her dream of becoming a teacher and climb into the middle class.  He implied that his Opportunity Grant would deliver the package of supports she needs to succeed.

In fact, under Chairman Ryan’s plan, neither Andrea nor anyone else would be guaranteed any assistance.  This means that Andrea could apply for services and be told that she cannot get any help.  Chairman Ryan doesn’t acknowledge that scenario.

To be sure, many kinds of assistance already are limited so that not everyone who’s eligible for assistance gets it — with one important exception.  Today, all eligible poor households can get help to buy groceries through SNAP (formerly food stamps), a form of income assistance that not only helps those households put food on the table but can free up resources so that families — not caseworkers — can decide how to direct their limited incomes.  Chairman Ryan’s plan would no longer guarantee that basic safety net.

And, nothing in Chairman Ryan’s proposal would make it more likely that families in Andrea’s situation would receive that full package of supports unless other needy individuals and families receive significantly less help.  Indeed, states already have flexibility to use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, which provides basic income assistance to poor families with children) to put together precisely this package of benefits.  But TANF’s flexibility does not trump its limited resources, and that’s why many single mothers like Andrea can’t get the help they need to make ends meet, find work, go to school, and ensure that their children are safe and well cared for while they juggle work and school.

Today, just 25 of every 100 poor families receive TANF assistance, only 1 in 7 low-income children who qualify for help paying for child care receives it; and just 1 in 4 low-income households that qualify for help paying for housing get it.

Also of note, the service provider structure that Ryan envisions almost surely would require more staff and, thus, would generate higher administrative costs, leaving less funding for assistance and services.

In short, the only way that Chairman Ryan’s plan can provide more assistance, targeted or not, to families like Andrea’s is if some poor households receive significantly less help, with cuts likely coming in help to pay for food and housing — the two largest programs that Ryan would consolidate under the Opportunity Grant.

The case of “Steven,” whom Ryan also highlights, makes the point as well.  A single 19-year-old non-custodial father, Steven is jobless and needs help to get off drugs.  Ryan’s proposal indicates that the Opportunity Grant would help him get drug treatment, move him into transitional housing (a form of subsidized housing), and get him help with attending parenting classes, finding work, and pursuing further education.

These are all needed services, and limited funding keeps many people, particularly adults not living with children and who have the same needs as Steven, from obtaining that help.  But the Opportunity Grant structure would not provide additional resources (and as my colleague Robert Greenstein points out, could well provide fewer resources), so the only way to provide this richer set of supports for Steven is to cut the help that other families receive.

Chairman Ryan skirts this fundamental math.  Consolidating funding streams into a single “opportunity” grant allows him to say that individuals like Andrea and Steven will get a better-targeted suite of supports without saying which families will get less help and how that will affect them.

CLASP: State Experiences Show Safety Net Programs Don’t Need Massive Overhaul to Work Better

July 23, 2014 at 5:23 pm

As House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan prepares to unveil his proposal to address poverty, Olivia Golden of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) today took a closer look at the experiences of six states to debunk common myths about the delivery of safety net programs.

Golden writes:

[S]ome commenters have criticized major anti-poverty programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) as so complex, rigid, difficult to administer, and impossible to package together that they need fundamental change.  These critics’ recommended changes include merging the programs into a block grant, allowing states discretion over major program provisions through waivers, or delegating discretion below the level of states, to local governments or case managers.

These proposals are deeply risky for families. . . . And we just don’t need to take those risks.  New information from the states continues to build the evidence that massive overhaul is simply not necessary to achieve the goal of more streamlined and integrated program administration.

Golden explained that the experiences of the six states involved in the Work Support Strategies (WSS) initiative — a project coordinated by CBPP, CLASP, and the Urban Institute that is designing, testing, and implementing more effective, streamlined, and integrated approaches to delivering key supports for low-income working families — offer lessons for how to improve safety net programs.

She concluded:

Rather than let myths drive suggested remedies to the safety net, let’s build on success and follow the evidence about what changes can really make a difference.  Rather than massive overhauls that would only undercut effective programs, we need to build on what some states are already doing:  delivering health and nutrition assistance, help with child care, and other core work supports smoothly, speedily, and as an integrated package to all eligible families.

Click here to read the full piece.

Top 10 Reasons for Schools to Adopt Community Eligibility

July 17, 2014 at 12:15 pm

I joined thousands of school nutrition administrators from across the country in Boston this week for their annual conference to share information about how high-poverty school districts can eliminate applications and serve meals to all students at no charge under the new option known as community eligibility.  Over and over, I heard from people who spend their days feeding children about how much it pains them to watch a hungry teenager avoid the cafeteria out of embarrassment or to have to collect lunch fees from struggling parents.  And, encouragingly, I heard about many districts that are poised to implement community eligibility, including El Paso, Texas, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Sumter, South Carolina.

Community eligibility can help schools in many ways.  For example, one Oregon school nutrition director who plans to adopt community eligibility, declared that she will not have to process 11,000 school meal applications this fall, enabling her to spend more time planning appealing, nutritious menus.

School districts have until August 31 to opt in to community eligibility for this coming school year.  Here are ten reasons to adopt community eligibility:

  1. Make the cafeteria the hot spot.  Meal participation increases in schools using community eligibility.
  2. Stop pushing paper.  Community eligibility eliminates meal applications.
  3. Be an innovator.  Community eligibility increases breakfast participation and makes it easier to offer breakfast even after the school day officially starts.
  4. Eliminate collections.  Without fees, schools won’t have to track down parents who haven’t paid.
  5. Reduce teen angst.  When all students eat at no charge, students worry less about being stigmatized for eating a school meal.
  6. Impress your accountants.  When more students eat, schools can achieve economies of scale and the per-meal cost falls.
  7. Get gold stars from teachers.  Increases in breakfast participation are associated with decreases in discipline referrals, visits to school nurses, and tardiness.
  8. Give parents peace of mind.  Parents know that their children can get two healthy meals each day.
  9. Be part of something #trending.  In the first three years, 4,000 schools offered community eligibility, and 28,000 schools are eligible to offer it now.
  10. Make your school hunger free.  Community eligibility ensures children get the meals they need to grow, learn, and thrive.

Community Eligibility: A Proven Tool to Address Child Hunger

July 14, 2014 at 11:21 am

Many school districts across the country are adopting community eligibility — which allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge without having to process meal applications — to support their students’ health and learning.  Some eligible districts are wary of the new option (which hasn’t been available nationwide until now) and want to make sure any glitches are worked out before signing up.  But newly available data from the seven states that have had the option for two or three years show that many school districts that took a “wait and see” approach liked what they saw and signed up the next year.

In six of those seven states, the number of schools offering community eligibility grew steadily each year (see chart).  And in the seventh, the District of Columbia, more than half of all students attend community eligibility schools, though the number of participating schools dipped the second year as two schools closed for unrelated reasons.

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So, districts considering community eligibility need not worry about being guinea pigs.  Thousands of schools serving nearly 2 million students have already tested it.

Those states and school districts have also developed useful materials that districts considering the option can use.  And the Agriculture and Education departments have answered many of the implementation questions they raised.

In short, community eligibility is a proven tool to help children receive the healthy meals they need to learn and thrive.

“All In with Chris Hayes” Highlights Community Eligibility

July 11, 2014 at 11:10 am

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes covered Chicago’s decision to adopt community eligibility, which allows schools with high percentages of low-income children to serve breakfasts and lunches to all children free of charge, for all its schools.  The story from earlier this week, which also featured other large districts that have adopted community eligibility, explained how taking the option helps children while simplifying the administrative tasks for schools.  Community eligibility means that “kids can concentrate on their work instead of their hunger and, notably, takes away the stigma of being a free-lunch kid,” Hayes explained.

More than 28,000 schools nationwide are eligible.  Schools have until August 31 to sign up.

Here is the clip: