March 30, 2009

Expanding food stamps

Well something's about to go right: Councilmember Michael A. Brown has introduced legislation that will expand eligibility for food stamps for DC residents. All Councilmembers have signed on as co-sponsors, and several are pushing hard for it - we are told this bill is a "shoo-in."

DC Hunger Solutions has the details. Essentially the legislation does two separate things. One, it expands eligibility for the food stamps program from 130% of the Federal Poverty line to 200%. The other action taken by the legislation is fairly technical: it links food stamp eligibility to TANF funding, so that anyone participating in a TANF-funded program will themselves also be eligible for food stamps.

The legislation will bring an estimated 4600 to 4800 new families into the program within the first year, for a benefit of about $30-60 per household per month.

At the same time, President Obama’s stimulus plan will increase the SNAP food stamp benefit up to 18%, further leveraging the impact of Councilmember Brown's bill. As a result, his office estimates that an additional $15 to 20 million of federal funding will flow into the District in the form of food stamps. In stimulus terms, this is all gravy: food stamps are reportedly the most effective form of economic stimulus, generating $1.73 of economic activity for every $1 of food stamp. That's about $25 to $30 million of additional economic activity for DC.

This was low-hanging fruit, a no-brainer way to help those who need it the most while stimulating the city's economy all at little or no cost to the city itself. Here at Bread for the City, we thank Councilmember Michael Brown for his initiative, and applaud DC Hunger Solutions for their leading role as well. Now here's the tough question: what's next?


imee said...

The increasing of eligibility for Food Stamps can be both good and bad. Raising the bar to 200% could accommodate those who can't afford food but has a family size too big. however it could also make families who can afford food to go on welfare, which is very unjust.


Matt Siemer said...

Hi Imee,

Thanks for taking the time to write in. I want to emphasize that SNAP (or, what we know as food stamps) is a voluntary program. No individual or family will be forced into the program.

I want to give the more detailed answer to your point, though, because there have been some changes to the food stamp program that often go unexplained. In order to qualify for food stamps you must (on top of being below the income threshold) be either 1) a senior citizen, 2) a person with a documented mental or physical disability, 3) a caretaker with dependents.

I would also add that the federal poverty line has not been recalculated since the early 1980's, so raising the bar to 200% of the poverty line is an attempt to counteract more than two decades of inflation.

I'm happy to write more about this if you're interested.

And thanks again!


Joanna said...

Matt, Does the raising to 200% just include DC or is this a national change. I live in NY and was under the impression that the change to 200% poverty level was in effect 4/1/09 but was informed otherwise at the food stamp office. Also, I am finding it diificult to find any this information online.

Greg Bloom said...

Hi Joanna -

We were just reporting here upon proposed legislation in DC, which hasn't passed or gone into effect yet. I'm not sure what's happening in New York, but there seems to be contact information listed here. Good luck!