The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) provides crucial support to many Americans living with disabilities, who often face higher living expenses than the non-disabled population. Roughly 1 in 4 SNAP beneficiaries is a child, adult, or senior with a disability. But changes to the SNAP program proposed in the House version of the farm bill, which heads to conference committee on Sept. 5, would cause many disabled individuals to lose their food benefits. Indivar Dutta Gupta and T.J. Sutcliffe, writing in The Hill, explain:
The first time someone falls short of working enough hours or fails to produce all the necessary paperwork to prove an exemption could mean losing food assistance for a whole year. For instance, a cashier scheduled to work for 19 hours one week instead of her usual 30, could be at risk of losing the benefits that help feed her and her kids for a year. The second time someone falls short would mean losing SNAP for three years. A person could regain SNAP only by proving that he or she found a job or training program with the required hours or qualified for an exemption. Many people with disabilities would lose SNAP under this punishing policy. Adults receiving disability benefits would likely be technically exempt. But many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses don’t meet the stringent standards for programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance. Instead, they would have to know to ask for an exemption and then prove that they qualify for one. Similarly, the bill’s proposed exemption for caregivers is incredibly narrow. Many families raising children with disabilities or supporting adults or seniors with disabilities would be left out.
Click here to send a letter to your members of Congress asking them to protect and strengthen SNAP in the ongoing farm bill negotiations.
Streamlining the benefits process
The core mission of social assistance programs is to get help to people who need it, when they need it. Too often, however, people who would qualify for public benefits don’t receive the help they should, because applying for those benefits can be complicated and information about the programs they are eligible for can be hard to find. Now, Louisiana is partnering with Code for America on a pilot project called the Integrated Benefits Initiative which aims to streamline the benefit application process, to connect more eligible people to public assistance and to remove barriers that keep people in need from the programs that would help them. As Code for America explains:
We launched our research phase with the state of Louisiana to understand why, how, and where clients struggle to enroll in all of the benefits programs they might need. Louisiana is in the midst of modernizing multiple eligibility and enrollment systems and eager to learn new approaches for data interoperability and cross program coordination. We will explore product opportunities that unify a client’s experience and reduce the touch points needed to enroll clients in multiple benefit programs. To further understand a client’s journey, we will also leverage the perspective of the agencies that oversee and administer Louisiana’s benefits programs including the Office of the Governor Policy Team, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), the Louisiana Housing Corporation, and the Office of Technology Services (OTS).
This move toward a user-focused approach to benefit enrollment should save valuable time for families facing hardships: a similar effort in California cut the average time to complete a SNAP application from 45 minutes to 8 minutes. Other pilots suggest that simplifying the benefit application process can make government more efficient, too. Application reforms in Michigan reduced the average time it takes government workers to process applications by 42 percent.
A return to ‘redlining’
A major reason that black families have a harder time building generational wealth than white families is housing discrimination. “Redlining” policies designated certain neighborhoods as undesirable places for residential mortgages, regardless of the applicant’s resources or ability to pay and systematically cut off black would-be homeowners from access to affordable credit. While the practice of redlining formally ended with the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 – an effort at promoting equity strengthened by the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA) – the effects of redlining persist, as does housing discrimination. According to a 2012 study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, black homebuyers are told about and shown roughly 17 percent fewer homes than white homebuyers. Now, a proposed rule-change to the CRA could allow banks to make fewer loans in poorer communities. Jesse Van Tol, chief executive of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, explains in a New York Times Op-Ed:
The law doesn’t force banks to make risky loans. It simply requires them to make safe loans to borrowers in all ZIP codes in their communities. By eliminating the requirement that banks invest in specific, historically underserved, areas, the proposed revisions would hide what’s really going on in the poorest neighborhoods. Banks could comply with the law by investing more in some places while doing nothing in others. This seemingly small change could have sweeping consequences for millions of Americans and affect tens of billions of dollars annually in lending. A Federal Reserve Bank study in 2017 showed that after a change to the statistical definitions of the Philadelphia metropolitan area resulted in some parts of the area becoming ineligible for Community Reinvestment Act lending, bank loans in the newly ineligible sections fell by about 20 percent for borrowers with incomes between $44,000 and $61,000.
STDs on the rise as public health investments lag
What does de-investment in public health services look like? It looks like skyrocketing levels of sexually transmitted diseases. A new report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found sharp rises in rates of infection, beginning to roll back years of declines. As NPR’s Richard Harris explains, a loss of federal funding may be partly to blame:
“The U.S. continues to have the highest STD rates in the industrialized world,” says David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, “and it preys on the most vulnerable among us.” … Harvey argues the root of the problem is that federal funding to prevent and control sexually transmitted diseases has dropped by roughly 40 percent in the past 15 years, which has choked off state and local programs. He called on Congress to appropriate $70 million immediately to address the crisis. “We all understand that you’ve got to maintain your bridges and your roads — and you see them on TV when they crumble,” says Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers. “You don’t always see a crumbling public health infrastructure.”
Fraser, noting that medication alone will not solve this problem, cites a need for more disease investigators to talk to potentially infected individuals.
Number of the Day:
13 – Years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm killed 1,577 Louisiana residents, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and damaged 70 percent of occupied housing in New Orleans (Source: CNN)