Nutrition Title Overview
October 18, 2011 -- Farm bill legislation (S. 1658/H.R. 3111) that Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Representative Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) introduced on October 5th would cut spending on the nutrition title of the Farm Bill by $14 billion over ten years. It would eliminate SNAP eligibility for one million hungry people, deprive 200,000 children of school meals, increase penalties and administrative burdens on states, and cut out SNAP Employment and Training services.
With millions of people struggling against food hardship and joblessness in the midst of ongoing high unemployment and underemployment, the nation’s safety net needs to be strengthened, not undercut. FRAC opposes S. 1658/H.R. 3111.
The Proposed “Cat El” Cut
The largest nutrition title spending cut in S. 1658/H.R. 3111 would come from eliminating receipt of services funded by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) as a basis for SNAP Categorical Eligibility (“Cat El”).
The federal SNAP asset test ($2,000; $3,000 for households with elderly persons and persons with disabilities) and gross income test (130 percent of the federal poverty line for most households) is based on outdated criteria (for example, the asset limit hasn’t been changed since 1986); can prevent otherwise eligible low-income people from receiving SNAP; deters some needy households from applying; and increases red tape for the client and caseworkers processing the SNAP application, driving up state and federal administrative costs while reducing accuracy in eligibility determinations.
The Cat El option addresses those barriers, offering a streamlined approach for states to serve low-income people more efficiently. Households that receive or are authorized to receive services or benefits funded mostly with federal TANF funds or with state TANF maintenance-of-effort funds can be deemed “categorically eligible” for SNAP and have their applications processed without regard to their assets, and under a modified gross income test if their state chooses to implement that Cat El option. In order to receive SNAP benefits, however, those Cat El households still must apply through normal procedures and show that their net incomes are below the poverty level, assuring that program benefits still go to the poorest families.
Currently, more than 40 states and the District of Columbia are implementing the Cat El option. 5.1658/H.R. 3111 would eliminate states’ ability to choose this option, limiting states’ flexibility and rolling back choices carefully made by many states in recent years.
The Cat El Cuts Would Cause Harm in SNAP and School Meals Access
S. 1658/H.R. 3111 would withdraw states’ ability to use the Cat El option and thereby cut many needy households from SNAP in states that have chosen this option. That change also would deprive many children in those households of their access to free school meals, as they no longer would be “directly certified” for school meals based on their households’ SNAP participation.
The Cat El Proposal Was Previously Rejected on a Bipartisan Basis
The proposal to limit Cat El in S. 1658/H.R. 3111 is neither warranted nor new. A proposal to limit Cat El was made by President Bush in 2005. It was rejected by Congress on a bipartisan basis.
In 2005, by a Sense of the Senate Resolution adopted on a vote of 66 to 26, the Senate instructed conferees to reject the Cat El cut and other Food Stamp cuts included in a House bill being conferenced with the Senate in the Deficit Reduction Act (DFA). Thereafter, the cuts were dropped from the final Act and the Cat El rules were maintained.
The Bush Administration proposed eliminating Cat El more than once; Congress consistently rejected it. The number of people estimated to be adversely affected if S 1658/H.R. 3111 is adopted is three times the number at risk in 2005.
(See the December 14, 2005 roll call vote on the Sense of the Senate Resolution.)
GAO Review of Cat El
After the 2005 debate, GAO, at the request of Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), examined who is served by Cat El and how states implement the option. The GAO review confirms that Cat El families are struggling with low incomes and with significant expenses for non-food needs such as child care. Moreover, it shows that eliminating the Cat El option would have negative consequences on state operations and budgets. States reported that elimination of Cat El could entail greater administrative complexity and costs. Read the GAO report.