Topic:
FEDERAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS; FOOD STAMPS; SOCIAL SERVICES;
Location:
FOOD STAMPS;

OLR Research Report


FOOD STAMPS

The latest data from the Department of Social Services (DSS) shows that Food Stamp use has been rising, a not unexpected phenomenon given rising food and fuel costs over the last 12 months. At the same time, Congress recently enacted the 2008 Farm Bill, which contains several Food Stamp provisions that could potentially raise benefit levels.

CONNECTICUT FOOD STAMP RECIPIENTS—RISE IN CASELOAD

According to DSS' May 2008 Active Assistance Unit report, the number of individuals and families or “active assistance units” receiving Food Stamps has been climbing steadily each month. In May, there were 112,791 such units receiving benefits, an increase of 8% over the previous May. The number of actual recipients was 209,452, 60% of whom were adults. Although Food Stamps is a federal program, DSS administers it, including issuing benefits through electronic transfers onto a debit-type card.

FOOD STAMP PROGRAM—HOW IT WORKS

Fairly complex federal law generally governs the program's eligibility criteria and benefit levels. Applicants' gross income cannot exceed 130% of the federal poverty level (FPL, $22,880 for a family of three in 2008). States must deduct from income certain items, including a standard deduction ($134 for households of one to three people, but rising to $144 starting October 1, 2008, see section on federal changes, below). Families must also meet an asset test ($2,000 for most households, $3,000 for households with elderly or disabled members). As of October 1, the asset limits will be indexed for inflation, but on an irregular basis (see below description of federal changes). Once the deductions are taken, “net”

income is multiplied by .30. This product is then subtracted from the federally established “maximum monthly allotment” and the difference is the amount of Food Stamps the applicant actually receives.

FEDERAL CHANGES THAT SHOULD RAISE BENEFIT LEVELS

The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the “Farm Bill”), vetoed by President Bush but overridden by Congress, contains several Food Stamp program changes, all of which are effective on October 1, 2008. The program's name will change on that date to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Table 1 provides a summary of those changes expected to have a direct impact on benefit levels.

Table 1: Food Stamp Provisions in 2008 Farm Bill

Provision

Previous Law

Farm Bill Change

(Effective October 1, 2008)

Standard income deduction for households with one to three children

$134

$144, with annual inflation adjustments

Dependent care deduction

Capped at $200 per month per dependent under age two, $175 per older dependent

Cap eliminated

Minimum benefit

$10

8% of Thrifty Food Plan, or about $14

Asset limits

$2,000 for most households, $3,000 for households with elderly or disabled member

Indexed for inflation. But this occurs in $250 increments so it could take a few years for first adjustment to occur.

Asset exclusions

Homes, personal property, resources with cash value that are inaccessible to household, motor vehicle (varies by state—in CT, vehicles excluded)

Tax-preferred retirement and education accounts

Income exclusions

Standard and dependent care deductions, 20% of earnings, legally owed child support, certain shelter costs

Combat pay

RESOURCES

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Implementing New Changes to the Food Stamp Program, July 2008 www.cbpp.org

The 2008 Farm Bill, PL 110-234, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR02419:@@@L&summ2=m%20...

Food Stamp eligibility provisions are at 7 CFR 273.2(j)(2)(A) http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cfr/retrieve.html

Office of Legislative Research report, Effect of Income Increase on Food Stamp Benefits, 2007-R-0608, October 2007

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