Study: House SNAP cooling, heating plan would cut some benefits, raise others
November 15, 2018
Between 800,000 and 1.1 million households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in 2017 would experience a $50 to $75 or 3 to 5 percent cut in their monthly benefit under changes to the Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances of the nutrition title of the House farm bill, according to a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, an analytics research firm, and released on Nov. 15.
At the same time, the earned income provision would raise the benefits for 4 million working households by an average of $10 or about 20 percent, Mathematica said.
Those findings are part of an analysis, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that estimates the effects of changing how public agencies account for utility expenses and earnings when calculating SNAP benefits.
Among households that would have their benefits reduced under these provisions, 79 to 84 percent (700,000 to 900,000 households) include children and 76 to 80 percent (600,000 to 900,000 households) live in poverty.
If only the provision involving utility expenses were enacted, the percentage of those households living in poverty — when considering income plus SNAP benefits — would increase from 65 percent to between 68 and 71 percent.
"SNAP has a long and successful history of providing temporary help to reduce food insecurity, lift people out of poverty, help families achieve self-sufficiency and reduce health disparities," said Giridhar Mallya, senior program officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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"Any reforms to SNAP should be driven by analysis of impacts on access, equity, cost and program outcomes including food security, financial security and diet quality."
Specifically, the analysis examined changes to:
Heating and cooling standard utility allowance requirements. Under current law, SNAP households with high housing expenses relative to their income are entitled to an income deduction based, in part, on rent (or mortgage) and utilities costs.
States may use a standard utility allowance (SUA) to streamline the process, including the highest SUA — the heating and cooling SUA (HCSUA) — to calculate a household's deduction if the household receives energy assistance, even if the household does not have heating and cooling utility costs.
H.R. 2 continues to permit this practice for households that include a senior or a person with a disability, but not for other households.
Earnings deductions. Under current law, working households may deduct a portion of their earnings from their income to receive a higher SNAP benefit.
H.R. 2 would increase the earnings deduction from 20 percent of earned income to 22 percent.
The analysis also assesses the separate effects of each provision, using an example of a typical three-person household with a child that received $346 in monthly SNAP benefits in 2017.
Under the increase in the earnings deduction only, the household's monthly SNAP benefit would climb to $357, an increase of 3.2 percent. By contrast, under the more restrictive energy assistance rules, the household's monthly SNAP benefit would drop to between $197 to $246, a decline of between 29 percent to 43 percent.
Mathematica released another brief analyzing the impact of Countable Resources and Categorical Eligibility in September.