This week, the Trump Administration proposed rules that would bring greater integrity to enforcement of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It would disallow automatic enrollment into SNAP, known colloquially as food stamps, if the applicant already receives assistance through the myriad of programs attached to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Instead, applicants would have to meet minimal, verifiable standards: ongoing and substantial benefits and inlcuding only non-cash TANF benefits to use in conferring automatic eligibility that focus on subsidized employment, work supports and childcare.
Automatic acceptance has become a problem. In some states, qualifying TANF benefits may be as minimal as simply providing a household with an informational brochure describing social services or access to hotline numbers. As a result, eligibility checks might occur as infrequently as every two years. These nominal benefits are often given without conducting a robust eligibility determination. Instead, automatic conferral now will come if a household receives TANF-funded cash or non-cash benefits valued at a minimum of $50 per month for at least 6 months.
Predictably, special interest groups that generally have advocated redistribution of wealth howled at the change, alleging that it would deny needy low-income households food security. In reality, the new standard makes clear that any deserving family would continue to receive benefits while weeding those that abuse taxpayers and shortchange genuine users.
Louisiana is one of those states, through its version of TANF, the Financial Independence Temporary Assistance Program (and an allied program called Kinship Shared Subsidy Program). Eligibility standards aren’t as loose as in some states, but it’s clear from last year’s statistics that eligibility determination will see improvement under the new rule’s standard.
At the end of fiscal year 2018, only a little over half of eligibilities were reauthorized in that month. Almost half of case closures came because of non-participation in required programs designed to increase employability or to provide child support, and around a fifth came each from failure to complete activities relevant to verification and another fifth or so from failure to meet eligibility requirements. By implementing the new SNAP standard, this will front-load into FITAP and not only catch those ineligible or who refuse to provide eligibility proof earlier but also may prevent them ever from being certified as eligible.
So, FITAP rolls may fall as well as those for SNAP, which was kept bloated by an Edwards decision early in his term to continue letting able-bodied adults without dependents qualify without their meeting typical qualifications set in federal law (covered by a fig leaf executive order that the new rule would moot). But that loophole itself seems certain to end as the Trump Administration also has proposed a rule, soon to go into effect, that would essentially veto Edwards’ choice.
Together, these two changes should reverse the fallacious decision of Edwards regarding SNAP. Better, they would redound to claw back the increase in improper eligibility determinations for Medicaid when Edwards unilaterally expanded it around the same time he loosened SNAP requirements.
The Edwards Administration trumpeted a method of easy expansion enrollment by simply taking SNAP qualifiers into it automatically. But that imported the SNAP improper payment rate into the far costlier Medicaid program. This error will fall in significance under the new SNAP rules, once again saving Louisiana from Edwards’ wasteful, big government ways.
Edwards’ loosening SNAP rules and expanding Medicaid were setbacks for Louisiana. Fortunately, it looks like the adults are on the way to cancelling some of the deleterious effects of his mistakes.