Have you seen the new CATO Institute report on SNAP benefits?! In this week’s low income news update, we’re going to review that outrageous report, the proposed SNAP changes in Congress, and more low income news you need to know.
Nationwide Low Income News
These headlines are relevant to everyone, regardless of where you live in the United States. For more local news updates, please look below!
The CATO Institute Report
The CATO Institute released a scathing report on SNAP food benefits this week, saying that SNAP doesn’t work because low income Americans tend to be obese. In fact, the report asks lawmakers to reconsider funding SNAP and maybe ending the federal program so that the states can manage food stamps independently.
In one line of the report, author Chris Edwards wrote, “Many Americans at all income levels are eating too much food, including too much unhealthy food, and they are gaining excess weight. The main food‐related health problem for low‐income Americans today is obesity, not hunger.”
I would like to remind The CATO Institute that correlation does not equal causation. After working in this space for 10 years, I’ve learned that many low income Americans who receive SNAP benefits are disabled and have chronic health problems that can influence their weight.
Furthermore, the answer is not to cut SNAP benefits but to increase them. Although the CATO report specifically blames junk food and sugary drinks for low income obesity, I would challenge the authors of this study to try to live on a food stamps diet and see how many fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins they can afford on $23 per month.
Federal Changes Proposed
This report comes as federal lawmakers are considering changes to the SNAP food stamps program as part of both the debt ceiling debate and the Farm Bill debate this year.
The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would expand work requirements for food stamps by five years. This means that anyone under age 55 would have to meet those work requirements in order to receive assistance. The current policy ends those work requirements at age 50. The bill also seeks to make Medicaid contingent on work requirements as well.
Since it’s not likely to pass the Senate, many news outlets report that we do not need to worry about these changes taking effect. However, it does highlight the problems we’re facing as our deeply divided federal lawmakers wrestle with big, life-changing topics like the debt ceiling and the Farm Bill, which governs SNAP food benefits and other critical food programs.
New Free Food Programs
A survey by No Kid Hungry showed that almost 75% of New Yorkers say that it’s harder to buy groceries today than it was a year ago. 60% of respondents said that they were “stressed, anxious, or depressed by the challenge of buying food.” And I know it’s not just in New York – this is a problem everywhere.
That’s why, in addition to our regular reporting on food stamps, we’ve also been looking into other programs that may be able to help you: the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for WIC, the Commodities Supplemental Food Program, Double Up Food Bucks and more.
Double Up is a program that can double or in some states even triple the value of your food benefits so that you can buy healthier food. We’re working on finding every Double Up location in every state and we’ve currently updated our Double Up directory with every state alphabetically through Ohio.
In other news, if you’ve been tricked into paying for TurboTax, you may be eligible to receive $85 from a new multi-state settlement. Basically, TurboTax tricked people into paying when they were actually eligible to file for free.
If you used TurboTax to prepare your 2016, 2017, 2018 taxes, you may be eligible for this settlement. The amount you receive will depend on how many years you used the tool. You could receive up to $85 if you used it all three years but most consumers are expected to receive about $30.
You do not need to file a claim; checks will be mailed automatically this month. I have reached out to the third-party administrator in charge of making these payments to figure out what you need to do if your address or email address has changed. I’ll let you know when I hear back on that.
The federal government has also announced new funding for the Diaper Distribution Demonstration and Research Pilot. This program provides free diapers through a network of diaper banks and local resources.
The pilot program is currently operating in Alabama, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Utah and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation.
The diapers will be made available through local Community Action Agencies, social service agencies and diaper banks. We have a list of diaper banks on our website for anyone who needs that assistance.
If you need help with hearing aids, don’t forget to call 888-258-5305 to reach our sponsor at CareConnect USA. They can connect you with affordable hearing aid solutions.
Local Low Income News
In this section, we will provide information that is local to your state. We’ve found updates for many states this month, so it’s going to be a long section.
In Alabama, more than $4 million has been made available for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides energy-efficiency improvements to low income households with children, seniors, or people with disabilities.
These funds are administered through Community Action Councils, so please reach out to your local agency for details.
In Arkansas, the Good Neighbor Love Center is distributing food boxes to anyone who needs them. All you have to do is show a state-issued ID to receive assistance.
Harvest Market can load dollar-matching rewards straight onto your EBT card. If you buy $5 in local produce, you’ll get $5 back on your card. You can earn up to $60 back per month at the Harvest Market locations in Fort Bragg and Mendocino.
The state has also started replacing stolen benefits, but they will only replace the basic amount you are approved for and not the emergency allotment. A senior in El Cajon named Robert Gehr found this out the hard way when over $1,000 in benefits were stolen. The state only replaced $120 for the most recent month’s base allotment.
And finally, California is considering NINE different proposals that would change the way that utility bills are paid. Under one proposal, customers who earn more than $100,000 per year would pay higher rates than low income customers. It’s not clear if or when any of these will become law, but I’ll keep you posted.
In Colorado, applications are open for a new low income housing complex in Greeley.
The complex is called Immaculata Plaza and is run by Catholic Charities Housing. There are 30 one-bedroom apartments, which are about 600 square feet. Three of them are ADA-compliant, and they will open next month. In order to be eligible, you must be age 62 or older and meet income requirements.
You can apply by calling the site manager Tim Mitch at (970) 539-9970 or emailing [email protected].
In Illinois, seniors in Chicago may be able to eliminate or at least drastically reduce their utility bills through a new program. The Solar for All program provides free solar panels for low income seniors. One 62-year-old retiree said that her bills have been $0 per month since she had the solar panels installed.
In order to be eligible, you must have an income that is below 80% of the area median income and have a roof that is in good enough shape to last through the 20-year contract. Contact Illinois Solar for All for details.
In Iowa, the Des Moines Farmers Market will start accepting EBT cards this year!
In Maine, a new bill has been introduced that would remove the sales tax on diapers and diaper accessories. This would make Maine the 23rd state to remove the tax on diapers.
In Maryland, stolen EBT benefits are already being replaced! The state has issued around a million dollars in stolen benefit replacements already. Don’t forget – if your benefits were stolen between October 1st 2022 and February 28, 2023, you need to fill out a benefit replacement form by May 31st to get those replaced.
At nine Giant Food locations in Baltimore, shoppers can get a $15 promo code for free fresh fruits and vegetables. This promo code is available for Giant Pickup and Giant Delivers orders placed online. It can be redeemed up to 12 times in a six-month period, for a total of $180 in free produce!
Massachusetts has been increasing SNAP benefits for their residents. Since the emergency allotment ended, the state has decided to provide up to 40% of the difference between your household’s actual regular monthly benefit and your maximum benefit amount. That means it’s not quite as good as the emergency allotment, but it’s way better going right back to those normal allotments. Those extra payments were issued on May 2nd and will be issued again on June 2nd.
Cambridge has launched a Guaranteed Income Pilot Program that is paying $500 per month to selected households. This is a radically different pilot than we’ve seen happen in other areas because they aren’t using a lottery system or randomly selecting participants. They are actually going to help everyone who is eligible, according to a news release by local news provider WBUR.
In order to be eligible, families must have a child under age 21 and earn at or below 250% of the federal poverty level. That’s about $75,000 a year for a family of four. Selected families will receive $500 per month for 18 months. The applications will open on June 1 and will remain open until July 31. About 2,000 families are expected to be eligible.
In Michigan, an organization called Disability Advocates in Kent County is helping low income people with disabilities with home modifications and limited home repairs. This program is currently helping seniors in Allegan, Ionia, Mecosta, Montcalm and Osceola counties.
The Department of Social Services is warning EBT users about a new scam. If you get a text message telling you that your card has been locked, do not respond. Do not give anyone your card number or PIN. The Department of Social Services has stated that they will NEVER call or text you asking for personal information, your card number, or your PIN so if you get a message like that, it’s always going to be a scam.
Also in Missouri, the state is getting close to expanding Medicaid to women up to one year after a baby’s birth. The current rules limit coverage to just 60 days post-pregnancy, so this would be a huge improvement. The bill passed the state’s House of Representatives by a huge margin, with 117 voting in favor and only 26 voting against, so I think there’s a good chance we’re going to see this happen.
In Nevada, a new low income housing unit is being built in Reno. The complex has almost 200 units and will be dedicated to households that make 60% of the Area Median Income or less. That’s about $39,000 for a single person or $56,000 for a family of four. The building will be ready to rent in 2025.
The state has received approval to start replacing stolen food benefits and that replacement program should launch on June 30th… but there is a major push by food advocates to change the way the state is approaching EBT reimbursement as well. Advocates want the state to fully reimburse stolen benefits, including any benefits that were stolen since January 1, 2022. They also want these replacement benefits to be issued within 10 days to make sure that the people who are affected don’t suffer. There is no word yet on if the government will act on that.
And finally, the state has been ordered to remove some of its most restrictive rules about Medicaid. Under previous rules, the state would not pay for root canals or crowns if you had eight matching back teeth. The state had somehow decided that having four matching sets of teeth was – and I quote – “adequate for functional purposes.” Well, a new legal settlement has said that the state has to scrap that rule and several others that imposed unfair restrictions. The changes have to take effect within the next 90 days.
The Yancey Humane Society Shelter will also host a free vaccine clinic on June 3 for low income clients. You can also get free microchipping and one-time dewormer services as well.
In Oklahoma, many families that are not eligible for P-EBT received those cards anyway.
A statement issued by the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Child Nutrition Program said this: “We are aware that parents that did not qualify for P-EBT may have received a card over the weekend or even today. The majority of those cards have no funds loaded onto them. Some could have a small amount loaded on them. When we discovered that this happened late Friday, we had DHS stop all payments. We are in the process of working through the issue to restart payments for those that are eligible for benefits. This is not a case of fraud. Any parent that received a card and their child has a paid lunch status should destroy the card.”
In Oregon, the state has issued 434,000 P-EBT cards to eligible children. The state has announced they are issuing $391 in food benefits to each eligible child in Oregon, and that each child will receive two pieces of mail. The first is an eligibility letter, and the second was the P-EBT card itself. Those should have arrived in April. If you haven’t received yours, you need to call the P-EBT call center at 844-ORE-PEBT, which is the same as 844-673-7328.
Residents of Bend, Oregon, may be able to receive assistance from the city if they are experiencing homelessness. The city just announced over $500,000 in funding that has been made available to various homeless support services in the city.
Rhode Island is considering new legislation that would change the way utility bills are calculated, by requiring low income customers to pay a percentage of their annual income instead of an amount based on the electricity that they use.
In South Dakota, seniors and low income residents have until July 1 to apply for a property tax refund. This program is available to anyone who has been a state resident since 2022 and has owned their home for at least three years. According to local news provider KELO, you can apply online at dor.sd.gov.
Tennessee started issuing P-EBT benefits for the current school year in late April. The benefits will equal $8.18 per child for every COVID-19-related excused absence that occurred prior to March. If you already have a P-EBT card, those benefits should already be available to you. If you need a new P-EBT card, the state is asking you to visit connectebt.com or call 1-888-997-9444.
Also in Tennessee, some families have received notices that they received more than they should have during the pandemic and that the state wants that money repaid. The Tennessee Justice Center states that they’ve been working with people who are being asked to repay up to $9,000 in benefits. The state has the option to apply for a waiver from the USDA to forgive those overpayments but they have not yet done so. If you receive a letter like this, I would encourage you to reach out to the Tennessee Justice Center for assistance.
In Texas, the OIG is warning users to keep an eye out for skimming devices. Specifically, they are asking Texans to be on the lookout for card machines that have
- Evidence of loose pieces that have been glued or taped in place
- Number keys that feel soft, spongy or covered in plastic
- Or places where a video camera could face a card reader or PIN pad of the register.
If you see anything like that, the Texas OIG is asking you to call HHS Card Services at 800-777-7328 to cancel your card immediately. You also need to call 800-436-6184 to report that fraud, or report the fraud on the OIG website using the big red “report fraud” button.
Also in Texas, the Las Barrios Unidos Community Clinic offers a sliding scale rate for low income patients. They recently received a new grant to hire more doctors, so please check them out if you need help with your medical care.
In Utah, the state will begin accepting applications for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers on June 1st at 9 am. The applications will only be available for a short time because the state closes it as soon as the waitlist is full. It’s been THREE YEARS since the applications were last open, so you really can’t afford to miss this.
Make sure you have the birth dates and Social Security Numbers for every member of your household, as well as your proof of income, ready to go so you can apply as soon as those applications open.
In Washington, the state successfully passed SHB 1784, also known as the Hunger Relief Bill. This bill gives the state more money for things like the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, double up programs and additional support for food banks. Thanks to this bill, the SNAP Produce Match program will double up to $10 per day instead of just $5. This boost only lasts until June 30, though.
Also in Washington, Seattle Parks and Rec is starting a yearlong pilot program that offers free swimming and water safety classes to children between the ages of 6 and 16.
New programs are being continuously created to help low income Americans lead healthier, safer lives. We read news reports from around the country in order to compile our weekly low income news roundups. This week’s report included information about a new CATO Institute Report, proposed changes to the food stamps program, nutrition incentive programs, the TurboTax settlement, and a variety of local news updates that will help people around the country.