Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger
Single-Day Issuance of Food Stamps in Idaho—Unnecessary Strain on Food Stamp Participants, Idahoans, and Grocers
THE ISSUE AND CONTEXT
Since the l960s, the Food Stamp Program has become the largest nutrition and food assistance program, serving over 46 million Americans in April of 2012 and over 234,000 Idahoans in May of 2012. Through partnerships between the USDA, state agencies, and local grocers, the Food Stamp Program is a positive example of a public-private partnership that works and that adds efficiency for all stakeholders in the program—delivering safe, healthy, and affordable foods to those in need of assistance.
The number of people in need of food assistance is higher than it has ever been. The extreme concentration of benefit issuance on the first of the month presents a number of issues. For anti-hunger advocates, there are four major concerns: 1) long lines create food access barriers for all Idahoans when products sell out and those most vulnerable cannot remain in line—especially for Idaho seniors, those with disabilities, and for those with small children; 2) the increasingly negative community perception of `those people at those stores on the first of the month;’ 3) avoid unrelated and harmful legislation that could be added to a bill on staggered issuance if left for the legislative session and 4) poor stewardship exists over perishable products when carts are left unattended. The long lines cause foods from the unattended carts to be discarded while Idaho families are in need. And, small grocers who lack refrigeration capacity can’t store enough meat to meet the needs for all customers on the first of the month.
The USDA strongly supports the staggered issuance of food stamp benefits and in February of 2012 sent a letter to all states clarifying their position. In this letter, the USDA asserts its stance: ” we are concerned when the effectiveness of the EBT distribution system is adversely impacted by factors that we have the combined ability to influence. Specifically, issuing SNAP benefits on a single day or over a limited number of days, instead of staggered issuance over the month, puts an unnecessary strain on SNAP clients and participating retailers by causing surges in customer traffic at SNAP authorized stores.” The USDA further instructs states that in the best interest of serving SNAP clients, we ask states to evaluate their issuance cycles and consider the steps, costs and timetable that might be involved if the conversion of issuance dates to a staggered schedule or a further extension of current schedule could improve services to SNAP clients and their access to healthy and nutritious food choices. States have the authority to stagger SNAP benefit issuance over the entire month as long as no participant goes longer than 40 days between benefit issuance days.
Three significant retailer problems include: 1) managing inventory for widely purchased perishable products; 2) labor issues like being able to hire full-time employees rather than part-time; 3) enabling a more positive customer experience by not having massive crowds and congestion on the single day of benefit distribution.
In November of 2011, Brian Williams and the NBC Rock Center Program traveled to Idaho to cover the explosion of food stamp participation and the long lines at grocery stores. Idaho families recruited for this segment shared personal stories of hardship and of food access issues related to congestion at stores even in the `wee hours’ on the first of the month. In July 2012, education and petition efforts at five Albertsons stores in Coeur d’Alene, Nampa, Caldwell and Boise collected 400 individual requests for staggered issuance from Idahoans in just under 3 hours. Again, food access stories were shared from those participating in the food stamp program and those not participating but who need to purchase food on the first.
The Idaho Food Stamp Program is an extremely well-run program and will receive federal bonuses again in 2012 for their payment accuracy and timeliness in issuing benefits. Challenges encountered by Idahoans at grocery stores on the first of the month or by retailers in managing staff and inventory do not diminish this excellent record. However, until mid-2009 Idaho did stagger benefit issuance—the change to a one-day issuance schedule was a business decision that has had unintended consequences for all. Idaho is one of only 9 states remaining with a 1-day issuance. As partners, the Idaho grocers have committed $100,000 toward the transition back to staggered issuance and to assisting with a sound transition for all participants.
The issue is clear—single day issuance of food stamp benefits in Idaho is causing unnecessary stress on food stamp participants, Idaho customers and retailers. The solution is clear—return to staggered issuance of benefits through existing state authority and partnership with Idaho grocers and advocates. The cost of returning to staggered issuance—accept the generous financial commitment by partner grocers to share in the costs and utilize federal bonus funds for staggered issuance to return Idaho’s food stamp benefit system to a multi-day staggered schedule.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, http://www.cbpp.org , March 2011
- Food Marketing Institute (2012) Before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Testimony of Jennifer Hatcher, Senior Vice President. http://www.fmi.org/government-affairs/fmi-government-public-affairs
- Food Research Action Center,http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/snapfood-stamps/ , March 2012
- Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Food Stamp Program, Food Stamp Participation, May 2012
- Iverson-Long, Brad, Idaho Business Review, Grocery Stores Looking for Food Stamp Fix, January 4, 2012
- NBC Rock Center, Brian Williams, Idaho family interviews, October, November 2011.
- Northwest Grocers Association, http://www.nwgrocery.org/home.html
- Richert, Kevin, State can fix the monthly food stamp crunch, Editorial Opinion, Editorial Board Visit (IIRAH, Idaho Foodbank, AARP-Idaho, IHRTF, and WinCo), March 1, 2012
- Richert, Kevin, Slow News week? Food Stamp Followup, Opinion Page, April 7, 2012
- USDA, letter to all States clarifying USDA support of staggered issuance, February 2012.
Check out current data and facts about the Food Stamp Program in Idaho below:
The Idaho Food Stamp Program Facts
Idaho’s communities are stronger when families have access to the safe, healthy food needed to meet basic needs and fuel active lives. With sufficient food every day, children perform better in school, parents can be more productive at work and families can fully participate in and feel part of their communities. It is for this reason the that public sector must work together with the faith community, non-profit organizations and private business to ensure that every family enjoys the security of having its basic nutritional needs met.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP), is one of the best lines of defense against hunger in the United States. In Idaho, this program is referred to as the Food Stamp program and is administered and funded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) at the federal level and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) at the state level. The Food Stamp program helps working families, children, people with disabilities, seniors and many others in need put food on their tables.
The Food Stamp Program as a Supplemental Nutrition Program
The Food Stamp program is a nutrition assistance program. The program is not designed, nor does it provide enough assistance, to be the only source of food and nutrition for recipients. In Idaho, in March 2011, the average Food Stamp recipient received $132 a month averaging out to $1.42 per meal. Food Stamps rarely meet a family’s needs for an entire month. Families are often forced to seek additional assistance from the Idaho Foodbank and local food pantries during the month when their Food Stamps are exhausted. Benefits may be used to buy only food items for consumption in the home; alcohol, tobacco and non-food household items are excluded.
Food Stamp Program Eligibility
To be eligible for Food Stamps an individual must meet eligibility requirements including, but not limited to citizenship, household income and assets and provide information and verification about their household circumstances at the time they apply. Once a person is determined eligible they are required to recertify and report changes in household circumstances to IDHW on a regular basis. IDHW accepts applications for Food Stamps at any office regardless of where a person resides.
Only US citizens and certain qualified legal immigrants can receive Food Stamps. Undocumented persons have never been eligible. There are stringent processes to determine citizenship and immigration status in the program which makes the likelihood of a person fraudulently qualifying for benefits unlikely. Legal immigrants can only get Food Stamps if they’ve lived in the U.S. for at least five years or have had earnings in the U.S. for a minimum of 10 full years; however exceptions to this rule are made for refugees, asylees and children.
The Idaho Food bank’s Hunger in Idaho 2010 study reported that nearly 40 percent of respondents indicated receiving income from a job. Idaho’s high unemployment rate coupled with many people being underemployed has contributed to the growing number of individuals qualifying for Food Stamps. Food Stamp recipients who are not employed are required to participate in Enhanced Work Services (EWS), including the Job Search Assistance Program, which assists individuals in gaining, sustaining, and expanding employment opportunities (some exceptions to this rule apply).
It is important to note that many Food Stamp recipients are children, elderly or disabled limiting their employment opportunities. In fact, of all Food Stamp households in the United States, 51 percent include children, 19 percent include seniors and 23 percent include someone with a disability. All together, 83 percent of Food Stamp households have a child, a senior or a disabled person. While there is not data specific to this for Idaho, it can be assumed that the percentages would be similar.
The Economic Benefit of the Food Stamp Program
Every $5 in Food Stamp benefits generates $9 in economic activity, according to USDA. Food Stamps not only help low-income people buy groceries, it frees up cash for other expenses, such as medical care, clothing, home repairs and childcare. This benefits local businesses and their employees, which boosts the economy as a whole.
Efficiency & Effectiveness of the Idaho Food Stamp Program
In spite of record participation growth, Idaho’s Food Stamp program continues to perform at a high level. Idaho’s payment error rate, a measurement of how accurately benefit amounts are determined by state staff, remains low at 3.32 percent for Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2010. This ranked 18th best in the nation last fiscal year. In addition, from November 2009 through the end of June 2010, Food Stamp eligibility was determined within 2 business days of receiving an application over 98 percent of the time.
IDHW operates one of the leanest and most efficient Food Stamp programs in the country. In FFY 2010, Idaho ranked 48th out of 53 states and territories in terms of administrative costs at $18.13 per case. Other state’s administrative costs ranged from a low of $9.82 per case to $100.85 per case.
Waste, fraud and abuse represent a very small portion of the Food Stamp program. The Federal program acknowledges that it may account for as little as 1% nationally. There are no estimates available for Idaho however IDHW continues to work on ways to improve the integrity of the program by implementing effective program controls and by improving methods to identify, investigate, and stop misuses.
Facts about Hunger in Idaho
The Idaho Foodbank’s (IFB) Hunger in Idaho 2010, the largest hunger study ever done in the state, found that 17,200 people needed emergency food assistance on any given week, and 142,200 people per year received assistance. It also found that in Idaho:
- 47 percent of food bank clients report having to choose between paying for food or paying for utilities or heating fuel.
- 34 percent of food bank clients had to choose between paying for food or paying their rent or mortgage.
- 34 percent of food bank clients had to choose between paying for food or paying for medicine or medical care.
- Only 36 percent of food bank client households receive Food Stamps.
- Among the programs that existed in 2006, 83 percent of pantries, 60 percent of kitchens and 64 percent of shelters in Idaho saw an increase in the number of people who came to their emergency food program sites.
- Among households with children, 86 percent of those served are food insecure and 38 percent are food insecure with very low food security.
For more information about what hunger looks like in your community please visit the Idaho Foodbank’s website at www.Idahofoodbank.org and review the recently published “Map the Meal Gap”. This study shows hunger at the county level, allowing everyone to recognize what it looks like in their own backyard.
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