Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How the States Use a Brochure to Siphon the U.S. Treasury

My blog entry today explains how the number of SNAP households -- Washingtonspeak for number of families receiving food stamps from the federal government -- has exploded in recent years because states have helped rewrite the eligibility rules.

Specifically, most states have eliminated asset tests. You can own a yacht and now receive food stamps (a yacht is better than stocks or bonds, because the latter will spin off income that could make you ineligible for food stamps).

Aside from low income, even if it is just temporarily low, all you need is one of the states' brochures. For example, if you live in Connecticut, you need the "Helping People in Need" brochure and you are eligible for food stamps. (Actually, you don't need to possess such a brochure, you just need to have been deemed eligible by the state to have received one -- see p. 65 of this document, which means that the state understands your income to be at least temporarily below 150 percent of the poverty line or so). You do not need to be receiving, or eligible for, cash from any other welfare program.

I understand that you find the above difficult to believe. A brochure? That's it? Really?!

Take a look at what the USDA has to say (they fund SNAP, and help the states administer it):

By the end of fiscal year 2010, 39 States had adopted broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) policies that confer categorical SNAP eligibility on all households authorized to receive a TANF/MOE-funded noncash benefit. In such States, households meeting the State-determined eligibility criteria for the TANF/MOE-funded noncash benefit are also eligible for SNAP benefits and thus are exempt from the SNAP asset or income tests. The noncash benefit usually takes the form of an informational brochure or handout targeted to virtually all households applying for SNAP benefits. (page 4 of this USDA document)

(TANF is the cash family assistance program. Not too long ago food stamps and TANF were tied together -- if you got cash from TANF you probably would get food stamps too. The TANF language is a legacy of that connection).

Or here:

Many States have very broad programs that provide a simple service––a TANF/MOE-funded brochure on domestic violence, for example––to confer categorical eligibility on a large number of households. These policies are known as broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) policies. (pp. 56-7 of this USDA document)

Here is a Colorado state congressman explaining how it really is a free lunch from the states' points of view. The federal government pays for half of the brochure, and some states like Colorado even convince charities to help with the other half!


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