State Senator Kevin Avard just submitted a new piece of legislation (SB7), co-written by out-of-state lobbyists, to cut the number of people eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) commonly referred to as “Food Stamps.”
Avard stated in his press release:
“The intent of this legislation is to strengthen New Hampshire’s food stamp program so that it can remain solvent for those who truly need the benefits for years to come.”
That all sounds good but there are a few things Granite Staters should know about SNAP before considering applauding this legislation.
SNAP is fully funded by the federal government. The State of NH pays nothing towards the benefits low-income families are receiving through the program.
The State of NH does have to cover 50% of the administration costs of running the program in New Hampshire, passing this bill is likely to increase the amount the state pays in administration costs.
So what would this bill accomplish?
It is all about changing the eligibility of recipients and forcing them to file additional paperwork to continue to receive benefits. It would also lower the threshold of eligibility based on gross income that does not take into account the high cost of child care.
“In 2014, there were 45,000 children in New Hampshire living in food insecure households. That means that in the previous twelve months there was an uncertainty of having, or an inability to acquire, enough food for all household members due to insufficient money or other resources. My concern with this legislation is that it will most likely increase the number of hungry children in our state,” said Marylou Beaver, Executive Director of Every Child Matters in New Hampshire during her testimony to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
“With child food insecurity at an unacceptable number, child poverty creeping upward, and a Food Stamp program that works for children, families, and the State, now is not the time to be making changes,” Beaver added.
“SB 7 would increase the complexity of the Food Stamps application process by eliminating expanded categorical eligibility and requiring cooperation with the Division of Child Support Services. These changes will undoubtedly increase administrative spending, for which New Hampshire must pay fifty percent,” said Sarah Mattson Dustin, an attorney for the NH Legal Assistance in her testimony opposing the bill.
The changes to eligibility requirements are much more complex than most people need to understand but Mattson sums up how the NH Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) applies the income limits.
“Expanded categorical eligibility is a targeted method of determining eligibility for Food Stamps that applies to families with children that have incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($3,108 a month for a family of three).
Again, expanded categorical eligibility only applies to families with children. If a family with children has gross income of 185 percent of the federal poverty level or less, DHHS waives the resource limit and the gross income limit that would otherwise apply.
DHHS does not waive the net income limit; families that have expanded categorical eligibility still have to meet the net income limit.”
The key is that DHHS takes into account the cost of housing, utilities, and child-care expenses before saying they exceed the income cap. This added flexibility in DHHS allows them to help struggling families above what the federal guideline would suggest but not above the federal “net income” level.
Avard admitted that he “co-wrote” this legislation with help from lobbyists at “the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA),” a well known right-wing advocacy group that is “pushing similar measures in statehouses around the country.”
The FGA is part of the right-wing “State Policy Network” that the Center for Media and Democracy describes as, “a web of state pressure groups that denote themselves as ‘think tanks’ and drive a right-wing agenda in statehouses nationwide.”
The FGA has direct ties to the nationwide corporate lobbying and policy development group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The CEO of FGA, Tarren Bragdon, presented on Florida’s ‘drug testing for welfare recipients bill’ at ALEC’s 2011 conference.
The former director of ALEC’s “Health and Human Services Task Force, Christie Herrera, went on to become FGA’s vice president of policy.”
Tarren was also the Executive Director of the “Maine Heritage Policy Center, a Koch-funded and affiliated right-wing think tank described as very influential within the Maine GOP establishment.”
Sen. Avard pointed to Maine as a model for how this legislation would reduce the number of people receiving SNAP benefits as a positive role model.
Since Governor Paul LePage pushed similar legislation through more than 60,000 Mainers lost access to SNAP benefits. This drastic cut resulted in many people being forced to rely on local food pantries for help in feeding their families.
“Food pantries were conceived as a source of emergency food assistance. Instead, they have become a regular source of food for many low-income Americans, including thousands of Mainers” wrote the Good Shepard Food Bank in their “Hunger Pains” report released this month.
The Hunger Pains report is based off of over 2,000 food pantry users across all 16 counties in Maine.
“Most survey respondents (86 percent) report using the food pantry at least once a month, with 29 percent visiting a pantry every week and 15 percent visiting a pantry every two weeks.”
Since adding these changes, Maine ranks 22nd in overall poverty and 19th in child poverty compared to New Hampshire that has the lowest rate of poverty and the lowest rate of child poverty in the Nation.While New Hampshire is doing well to combat poverty there is a growing number of people who are food insecure. New Hampshire ranks 6th in the nation, with 10.1% of the population reporting food insecurity, whereas Maine ranks 43rd with a whopping 15.8% reporting food insecurity. We do not want New Hampshire to be more like Maine. They should be striving to be more like New Hampshire.
Avard’s bill also introduces an additional provision to require all Food Stamps applicants and recipients to cooperate with the Division of Child Support Services.
“This means that custodial and non-custodial parents would have to work with the Division to establish paternity and child support in court. This is a sweeping eligibility change which will add complexity to the Food Stamps application process for program participants and enormous administrative burdens for DHHS,” testified Mattson Dustin.
This legislation would actually harm the low-income families already struggling to put food on their tables. These out of state lobbyists are trying to get New Hampshire to push thousands of Granite Staters out of the SNAP program forcing them to rely on local food banks and the charity of others to feed their families.
The Senate should reject this bill and tell the lobbyists in Washington that they should follow our lead when it comes to helping combat poverty and food insecurity.