June 13, 2001

Senate Bill 583/House Bill 2142: The Nutrition Assistance for Working Families and Seniors Act
by Daniel Tenny

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On March 21, 2001, Senators Kennedy (D-MA), Specter (R-PA), Leahy (D-VT), Jeffords (I-VT), Graham (D-FL), and Chafee (R-RI) introduced Senate Bill 583, the "Nutrition Assistance for Working Families and Seniors Act of 2001." On June 12, companion legislation (H.R. 2142) was introduced in the House by Representatives Walsh (R-NY), Clayton (D-NC), Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Hall (D-OH), Johnson (R-CT), Kaptur (D-OH), Leach (R-IA), Lee (D-CA), Kelly (R-NY), Levin (D-MI), Morella (R-MD), Towns (D-NY), Quinn (R-NY), Hinchey (D-NY), and Foley (R-FL), and DeLauro (D-CT). These bills would improve the adequacy of food stamp benefits, ease the burdens on families participating in the food stamp program, and provide additional resources to emergency food providers. The bill is constructed to strengthen the safety net for a wide-ranging group of people, including general provisions to assist families needing nutrition assistance as well as targeted provisions for families with children, the elderly, and non-citizens.


Restoring Eligibility for Legal Immigrants

The 1996 welfare law placed restrictions on eligibility for food stamps for many legal immigrants. This provision would restore their eligibility. It would continue prior law requiring that sponsors' income be deemed to immigrants they helped bring into this country for the immigrants' first three years here.

Food Stamp Participation Changes from 1994 to 1998
(in thousands)
Change in Number of Participants Percent Change Share of
Participation Decline
Legal Permanent Residents -1,210 -83% 15%
U.S. Citizen Children in Families with a Legal Permanent Resident -1,003 -74% 12%
Other Families with Children * -4,807 -24% 60%
Childless Unemployed Adults * -723 -58% 9%
All Other -297 -8% 4%
Total -8,040 -29% 100%

* These categories exclude households with legal permanent residents.
Source: CBPP tabulations of Food Stamp Quality Control data, 1994 and 1998.


Increasing the Standard Deduction

This provision would provide that a household's food stamp benefits would not start to be reduced until its income reaches ten percent of the federal poverty guidelines. This recognizes that the very poorest families are likely to need the full food stamp benefit to obtain a minimally adequate diet and that low-income families have some irreducible expenses they must meet — typically for temporary or permanent shelter — before they can begin to devote some of their funds to food. It would gradually phase-in this new principle as a replacement for the current food stamp standard deduction, which subtracts the first $134 per month from a household's income at the beginning of the process of determining the household's net income.

This approach would scale the standard deduction by household size (recognizing that larger families have more expenses than smaller ones), although it would provide no further adjustments as household size increased beyond six persons. It also would ensure that the standard deduction keeps pace with inflation; the current $134 standard deduction has been frozen since 1995.

Standard Deduction under S. 583/H.R. 2142

Household Size FY 2002 FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006
1 $134 $134 $134 $134 $134
2 $134 $134 $134 $134 $134
3 $134 $134 $134 $134 $135
4 $134 $134 $139 $151 $162
5 $137 $150 $163 $176 $190
6 and up $157 $172 $186 $202 $218


Deducting 20 Percent of Child Support Received from a Household's Income

Under current food stamp rules, child support income is treated as unearned income and its full value is counted when calculating a household's food stamp benefit. So, if the household receives an additional $100 in child support, its food stamp allotment is likely to decline by approximately $30 to $45. To address this problem, S. 583 and H.R. 2142 would disregard 20 percent of child support income in the food stamp benefit calculation just as current rules disregard 20 percent of a household's earned income.


Increasing the Minimum Benefit

Currently one- and two-person households who are eligible for food stamps are assured at least a minimum benefit of $10. This provision would gradually increase the minimum benefit to $25 in 2006 and then index it for inflation.


Extending Transitional Food Stamps to Six Months

In November 2000, USDA published rules to give states a new option to make food stamps more accessible to families that leave the cash assistance rolls. The Transitional Benefit Alternative (TBA) created by those rules allows states to freeze food stamps for up to three months (after adjusting benefits based on the loss of cash assistance) after a family leaves cash assistance. The provision proposed in this legislation extends and improves this option by allowing food stamps to be frozen for six months, encouraging more states to take the option and further easing the requirements on working families.


Improving Access to Benefits

In 1998, the most recent year for which we have data, the overall food stamp participation rate was 59 percent. This figure is down from the 1994 participation rate of 71 percent. The participation rate for households with earnings went down to 47 percent from 54 percent over the same period. Unfortunately, this trend is occurring at a time when the number of low-income households with earnings is increasing due to the strong economy and state efforts to encourage low-income families to work in lieu of receiving welfare. The bill includes several measures to make it easier for eligible families to access benefits. One provision would require USDA, in consultation with state food stamp administrators, to develop materials to improve access to the food stamp program. Another would require USDA to maintain a toll-free number for information about nutrition programs.

In addition, the bill would provide funding for pilot projects to improve coordination between various work support programs and to facilitate the application process. Under one set of pilot projects, up to five states could out-station eligibility workers at the "one-stop centers" offering job training services under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Another set of up to five pilot projects would allow states to test co-locating food stamp eligibility workers with outstationed Medicaid and SCHIP eligibility workers at hospitals, clinics, and other health care providers serving large numbers of low-income people. A final set of pilot projects would allow states to apply Medicaid or SCHIP verification procedures in determining food stamp eligibility for families seeking both benefits. (Project proposals located in rural areas would be given priority.)

The bill would fund demonstration projects to allow households to apply for food stamps over the Internet and be interviewed by telephone rather than visiting the welfare office. The bill would also provide for grants to state agencies and non-profit organizations to test innovative ways to improve access to the food stamp program.


Authorizing an Additional $20 Million for TEFAP

The bill would authorize $20 million in additional commodities purchases. It requires that half of the additional money be spent on expenses by emergency feeding operations distributing food to the needy.

Immigrants Who are Eligible for State Food Stamp Replacement Programs(1)

California Legal immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps who were in the U.S. before 8/22/96. Legal immigrants who enter after 8/22/96 whose sponsors are deceased, disabled or abusive. Other qualified immigrants who enter after 8/22/96 are eligible until September 30, 2001.
Connecticut Legal immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps. There is a six-month state residency requirement for those who enter the U.S. after 4/1/98.
Illinois Elderly immigrants 60-64 years of age and immigrant parents of children who are eligible to receive federal food stamps; Must have been in the U.S. before 8/22/96. (The state issues a flat benefit rather than a full replacement of food stamps.)
Maine Legal immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps.
Maryland Immigrant children under the age of 18 who entered the U.S. on or after 8/22/96.
Massachusetts Legal immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps who have been in the state 60 days prior to application.
Minnesota Legal immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps.
Missouri Legal immigrants who were on TANF on 8/22/96 and are on TANF when applying for food assistance.
Nebraska Legal immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps.
New Jersey Elderly immigrants 65-68 years of age, immigrant parents and guardians of children who were in the U.S. before 8/22/96.
New York Elderly immigrants 60-68 years of age who live in the same county (or in New York City) in which they resided on 8/22/96.
Ohio Elderly immigrants 65-68 who are eligible for SSI, have been U.S. residents for five years prior to application and were Ohio residents as of 8/22/96.
Rhode Island Legal immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps who were residents of Rhode Island before 8/22/96.
Texas Elderly immigrants who entered the U.S. before 8/22/96, became age 65 after 8/22/96 but before 3/1/98, and received federal food stamp benefits in any month from 9/96 through 8/97.
Washington Legal immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps.
Wisconsin All legal immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps.


Estimated Number of Individuals Who Would Benefit
From Kennedy-Specter/Walsh-Clayton Bill Provisions, by State

(in thousands)
Increasing Standard Deduction* Child Support Disregard Increasing Minimum Benefit*
Alabama 230 50 20
Alaska 30 3 3
Arizona 170 10 10
Arkansas 150 30 20
California 1,410 30 40
Colorado 90 10 20
Connecticut 100 20 20
Delaware 20 3 1
District of Columbia 50 1 3
Florida 430 40 70
Georgia 360 110 40
Hawaii 80 10 1
Idaho 40 10 10
Illinois 450 40 50
Indiana 160 30 20
Iowa 70 10 10
Kansas 70 10 10
Kentucky 210 40 30
Louisiana 310 60 20
Maine 60 10 10
Maryland 160 30 10
Massachusetts 140 20 30
Michigan 420 50 30
Minnesota 50 10 30
Mississippi 170 50 30
Missouri 210 40 30
Montana 40 10 3
Nebraska 50 10 10
Nevada 30 10 5
New Hampshire 20 2 4
New Jersey 220 40 20
New Mexico 120 5 10
New York 830 160 80
North Carolina 280 60 50
North Dakota 20 4 3
Ohio 340 50 70
Oklahoma 140 20 30
Oregon 110 20 20
Pennsylvania 480 110 80
Rhode Island 40 4 10
South Carolina 180 30 20
South Dakota 30 4 2
Tennessee 240 60 50
Texas 810 140 50
Utah 60 10 4
Vermont 20 5 10
Virginia 190 60 30
Washington 180 20 20
West Virginia 130 20 10
Wisconsin 100 30 20
Wyoming 10 3 2
US Total 10,320 1,570 1,160
Source: CBPP Tabulations of Fiscal Year 1999 Food Stamp Quality Control data.

* This table shows the number of individuals affected in the year in which the provision is fully phased in. For the standard deduction and the minimum benefit, the year shows approximate number of people affected in 2006. The child support provision goes into effect immediately.

Note: This table ignores interactions between the provisions.

End Note:

1. States provide benefits either by purchasing federal food stamps, issuing a cash benefit or via electronic benefit transfer. In addition, Colorado enacted an emergency food assistance program for immigrants ineligible for federal food stamps. Florida had a food assistance program that was discontinued on 10/31/98.