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SNAP Provides Foundation to Climb Economic Ladder

A House Agriculture Committee hearing today emphasized the important role of SNAP (food stamps) in supporting families as they work to boost their income.

In particular, witnesses noted that case management — assistance to help low-income individuals set and achieve short- and long-term goals — can be effective, but it’s not feasible to provide such intensive services for everyone, nor do all families need it. 

Case management focuses on connecting individuals and families to benefits and services that can help them meet their basic needs, identifying and helping to resolve barriers that keep people from reaching their potential, and helping them find jobs or enroll in education and training programs to gain the skills and credentials to earn more.  States can use their SNAP employment and training dollars to provide this kind of support, but case management typically isn’t provided as a part of SNAP and the federal government doesn’t provide any funds explicitly for this purpose.  

Here are five key takeaways from the hearing, which featured four case management providers: 

  1. Many SNAP recipients don’t need case management services to find a job because they’re already working.  SNAP supports their work and helps them put food on the table.
  2. SNAP, along with other key safety net programs like housing assistance, helps stabilize individuals and families in crisis so they can fully participate and reap the benefits of working with a case manager toward longer-term goals (e.g., getting more training or finding a job in a particular industry).
  3. Effective case management isn’t cheap.  Case management that aims to help families find jobs where they earn enough to cover housing, food, and child care costs on their own can cost more than $5,000 per case, per year.
  4. Moving individuals or families out of poverty requires a long-term commitment.  One program profiled at the hearing works with families for five years with a goal of having them earn enough to cover food, housing, and child care costs on their own at the end of that period.
  5. Case management doesn’t guarantee an individual a job.  One witness runs a program that placed about 3,000 of the 50,000 individuals it serves — just about 7 percent — in jobs last year.

The path out of poverty, particularly deep and persistent poverty, for many individuals and families is a long one.  SNAP provides an important support while they’re on that path and helps to provide a foundation for long-term success for the next generation, likely reducing the need for costly future case management services.