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Fresno's jobs drought starts at the dinner table with food stamps

Let’s begin with excerpts from the report’s introduction, signed by Chairman Conaway (R-Texas) and Rep. Jackie Walorski (R- Indiana), chairwoman of the committee’s Subcommittee on Nutrition.

“It is our responsibility to help our most vulnerable citizens, whether they are children, the elderly, the disabled, veterans, or those who are down on their luck due to no fault of their own. SNAP serves that purpose, partnering with many other organizations to put food on the plates of those who would otherwise be hungry.”

Conaway and Walorski mince no words when addressing a potential criticism.

“You will find nothing in this report that suggests gutting SNAP or getting rid of a program that does so much to serve so many. What you will find are a number of ways the program is working successfully and a number of areas in need of improvement.”

The report gives a quick review of the committee’s mission and the overall SNAP landscape. The 16 hearings were held between February 2015 and November 2016.

“SNAP is the largest program under the jurisdiction of the Committee, accounting for 79 percent of total farm bill spending. CBO (Congressional Budget Office) currently projects that SNAP will cost an average of $69.75 billion per year over the next 10 years, making it the largest Federal food program serving low-income families in the United States. Program participation nearly doubled (up 81 percent from FY 2007 to FY 2013) as a result of the recent recession.”

On average, in 2007, 26.3 million people (roughly 9% of the U.S. population) received SNAP benefits. By 2013, that figure ballooned to 47.6 million. Despite consistent decline in unemployment figures (at 4.6% when the reports data concluded in July), more than 43.4 million were still receiving benefits.

SNAP’s operational structure is complex, as you would expect in nation as big and diverse as America.

“Similar to many of the other means-tested benefit programs, there is a detailed framework of Federal law and regulation governing SNAP,” the report states. “However, the program is ultimately administered by states that have a number of options—for example, asset testing and transitional benefits—for implementing certain policies as well as access to waivers of Federal law and regulations in specific cases.

“SNAP benefits are fully funded by the Federal Government, although state policy options may play a role in increasing or decreasing the size of the caseload. Administrative expenses, such as those used for determining initial and ongoing eligibility, are divided equally between the Federal and state governments.”

SNAP eligibility is tied to the Federal poverty level, though eligibility requirements vary widely by state. On the whole, Congressionally-mandated income requirements play a big role in who receives SNAP.

“The basic SNAP beneficiary unit is the household,” the report states. “A household can be either a person living alone or a group of individuals living together….If eligible for SNAP, an applicant household also undergoes a calculation of its monthly benefit amount (or allotment). This calculation utilizes the household’s net income as well as the maximum allotment, a figure that equals the current value of the ‘Thrifty Food Plan’ (TFP). Developed in the 1930s and now updated monthly, the TFP is USDA’s national standard estimate of the minimum cost of eating at home and is broken out by gender and age.”

The report notes that a household of four would be ineligible for SNAP if its gross monthly income exceeds $2,633 or if its net monthly income exceeds $2,025.

In Fiscal Year 2015, the report states, “approximately 82 percent of SNAP households lived below the Federal poverty level. Forty-two percent of SNAP households had incomes less than or equal to half of the Federal poverty level, and they accounted for 57 percent of all benefits…”

Wondering how the benefits break down? Next year, a single-person household would receive $194 each month. Two-person households receive $357 per month, and four-person households receive $649.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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