The Food Stamp Expansion Act of 2009 is finally going into effect, bringing much-needed assistance to thousands of DC residents who are struggling to make ends meet but also previously did not qualify for food stamps. We're proud to have worked with DC Councilmember Michael Brown, DC Hunger Solutions, and other community leaders to enact this smart legislation.
WHAT/WHO: Councilmember Michael A. Brown, will be joined by Councilmember Cheh, and representatives from local government agencies, and Bread for the City, DC Hunger Solutions, and other local advocacy and service providers to celebrate the implementation of the Food Stamp Expansion Act of 2009. The event will highlight the new changes in eligibility that took effect on March 15th and the forthcoming changes in benefits under the bills “Heat and Eat” provision. There will also be discussion regarding the new bill that Councilmembers Michael Brown and Mary Cheh recently introduced further strengthening the local food stamp program.
BACKGROUND: In March of 2009, Councilmember Michael A. Brown authored and introduced the Food Stamp Expansion Act of 2009 with the support of the full council. The bill was passed as part of the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Support Act making the bill effective October 1st 2009. The law creates two separate initiatives which are aimed at expanding eligibility and increasing the benefits of our federally funded food stamp program by utilizing existing mechanisms within the federal regulations.
The first initiative is Categorical Eligibility which will expand the eligibility of our food stamp program.
- Categorical Eligibility allows low-income applicants to bypass the food stamp program’s asset test and use a much more realistic gross income test by conferring food stamp eligibility based on their participation in another low-income assistance program.
- Currently DC’s food stamp eligibility requirements include a gross-income limit of 130% the federal poverty level and an asset cap of $2,000. Clearly, with DC’s high cost of living 130% the poverty level is not sufficient to survive and an asset cap of $2,000 creates a disincentive to save.
- This bill will create a low-cost TANF funded program which will be determined by the Department of Human Services. The eligibility of this program will be set at 200% the federal poverty level with no asset test. As stated in the federal regulations, acceptance into this program will automatically convey Categorical Eligibility for the food stamp program.
- IMA estimates that in the first year Categorical Eligibility will enroll an additional 4,800 individuals in the food stamp program and leverage more than $2million additional federal dollars for the local economy.
- 35 other states have already implemented Categorical Eligibility.
The second initiative is the Heat and Eat Initiative which will drastically increase the benefit levels of many current food stamp recipients.
- The Heat and Eat Initiative capitalizes on the fact that the federal regulations of the food stamp program state that any individual who is enrolled in both the food stamp program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program automatically can claim the Maximum Standard Utility Allowance when determining their net-income which is what food stamp benefit levels are based on.
- This bill will create the “Heat and Eat Initiative” which will be a LIHEAP program which all food stamp recipients will be automatically enrolled in. This program will provide a $1 annual energy assistance benefit, but more importantly, will automatically allow all food stamp recipients to deduct the Maximum Standard Utility Allowance of $276 a month.
- It is estimated that this initiative will increase the monthly benefits for more than 27,000 households and bring in between $13 and $19 million dollars a year of federal money in increased benefits for our low-income residents.
- Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New York, and Washington states have all implemented this initiative.
These initiatives have minimal local costs and would produce a very high return for our local economy.
- Economists across the political spectrum agree that food stamps are, dollar-for-dollar, one of the best ways to stimulate the economy. It is estimated that every $1 in food stamps generates $1.73 of local economic activity.
- Local costs for these initiatives will include the cost of creating and distributing the TANF funded brochure and the $1 LIHEAP energy benefit as well as some additional administrative costs (however 50% of the administrative costs of the food stamp program are federally funded).
- Because the food stamp benefits are 100% federally funded these small local costs will result in $15 to $21 million in new federal funding to our low-income residents and will generate approximately $25 to $35 million in local economic activity.
For more information about the Food Stamp Expansion Act, please contact Kilin Boardman-Schroyer at (202) 724.8105; firstname.lastname@example.org.