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Monitoring SNAP Policy Implications for Food Retail

By: Hannah Walker, Vice President, Political Affairs, FMI 

SNAP Expansion DistributionAs private sector partners with the federal government serving as points of redemption for customers receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the integrity, efficiency and accessibility of SNAP are top priorities for FMI and our participating retail members. Grocery store serves as an area’s economic and social hub providing safe affordable food and jobs while investing in local communities all across America. Over the past year, USDA and other agencies have announced proposed rules changes for SNAP participation. FMI has tracked these changes and provided commented on key issues that could affect our industry. I’ve highlighted a few proposals we’re monitoring: 

Revised Public Charge Rule (Department of Homeland Security)

Finalized 8/12/19. The final rule amends regulations by prescribing how DHS determines whether an individual applying for admission or adjustment of status is inadmissible to the United States because he or she is likely at any time to become a public charge. Not previously considered when determining if someone may become a public charge, the rule now adds the acceptance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid and federal housing assistance be considered when making a determination. The rule does not apply to WIC, school meals, and other child and older adult nutrition programs.

FMI submitted comments in late 2018. In our comments, FMI focused on the rule’s stated intent to not include benefits to children as part of the determination, including acceptance of WIC. However, 43% of households who participate in SNAP including children under the age of 18. SNAP benefits are extended to families, not individuals in the case of minor children. Therefore, in order to allow children to continue to receive food assistance via SNAP, any family with dependent children would need to be specifically excluded from the rule.

The rule was finalized in late summer and is scheduled to go into effect on October 15, 2019. There are multiple legal challenges to this rule. Plaintiffs in the cases have asked the courts to issue preliminary injunctions to prevent the enforcement of the rule while it is being litigated. As of today, no injunction has been granted, but could be before October 15. 

Revision of Categorical Eligibility in SNAP (USDA)

Public Comment Closed 9/23/19. This proposed rule would change how a state can use broad-based categorical eligibility for TANF when determining if someone qualifies for SNAP benefits. Broad-based categorical eligibility means that the client automatically is eligible for SNAP because of their eligibility for TANF without having to file additional paperwork. Currently there are 42 jurisdictions utilizing broad-based categorical eligibility and a number of those states are providing either no monetary assistance to these participants or a small monetary contribution such as $15 per month. In the proposed rule, the Agency would require that in order to confer categorical eligibility for SNAP on a client family, cash or non-cash TANF benefits must now be both substantial and on-going. Substantial benefits would be valued as at least $50 per month and ongoing means that they must be received or eligible to receive benefits for 6 months. Non-cash TANF benefits that convey categorical eligibility are limited to subsidized employment or work support and childcare assistance. The proposed rule does not address eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants & Children (WIC).

However, some SNAP families receive adjunctive eligibility for WIC. FMI submitted comments raising the question of adjunctive eligibility and asking if and how a family’s WIC eligibility would be affected if they are removed from SNAP under the proposed rule. 

In addition to the previous stated question on WIC, FMI’s comments focused on the lack of clarity in the proposed rule and our need for greater specificity on the true impact of the rule if made final. FMI asked the Agency for any specific data by state and jurisdiction of the current monthly monetary benefit levels of the potentially affected households. FMI also asked clarity regarding states that commit to the new ongoing monetary contributions for their TANF families.

The Agency received more than 75,000 comments to the proposed rule. It must now review and address all concerns raised before moving forward with a final rule. It is expected that groups will sue to stop implementation if and when a final rule is issued.

Changes to the Work Waiver Ability for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) (USDA)

Comment Period Closed 4/2/19.The proposed rule would implement stricter criteria for ABAWD waiver approvals establishing narrower standards for determining when and where a lack of enough jobs justifies temporarily waiving the ABAWD time limits. The proposed rule would also limit the duration of waivers to one year and curtail the use of less robust data to approve waivers. 

USDA is currently reviewing these comments and we could see a final rule by the end of 2019 that could have an implementation date in early 2020. However, the Agency received a very large number of public comments which it must review and address before moving forward with a final rule.  

USDA Proposal to Modernize SNAP Benefit Calculations

Public Comment Ends 12/02/19. The latest proposed rule out of USDA would adjust how standard utility deductions are calculated for SNAP recipients. Currently, states have broad discretion in how they calculate a household’s utility deductions when determining SNAP benefit levels. The proposed rule would make the process uniform across the states and update it to reflect current home utility costs including internet service. Several hunger groups have already come out opposing the rule arguing that up to 19% of SNAP households would see a reduction in their SNAP benefits under the new formulas. FMI is currently reviewing the rule and will determine if there is an appropriate place for us to submit comments on behalf of our members.

Lack of Clarity on Government Funding

Funding for the federal government expires November 21, 2019. In late September, Congress passed a short-term spending bill to keep the government funded to avoid a shutdown while they work to pass individual appropriation bills this fall. At this point, the House has passed ten of their twelve stand alone appropriations bills, and the Senate none. They will work over the next six weeks to pass as many as possible, but it is likely they will need to pass another stop-gap bill while they finish their work on the remaining appropriation bills.

FMI will continue to monitor and report on these and any additional proposed changes to SNAP.

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