February 15, 2012
To: Health and Human Services Committee
From: Aubrey Mancuso, Policy Coordinator
RE: Support for LB 1010 to increase the gross income limit in the SNAP program
Voices for Children supports LB 1010 because it takes steps to improve the SNAP program in a way that encourages steps toward longer term financial security. The SNAP program is an important work-support that helps prevent children from going hungry when their parents are struggling financially. LB 1010 improves the SNAP program by leaving the net income requirement unchanged while increasing the gross income limit. This change allows families who have a gross income above the current limit but have high expenses to still qualify for food assistance.
Applying the net income standards more stringently than the gross income limit ensures that only families who really need it receive this type assistance. Eligibility is then determined based on whether or not a family’s net income, the income actually available to purchase food, is less than 100% of the federal poverty level. For example, a single parent with one child who works 40 hours a week at $9 an hour would not qualify for SNAP under Nebraska’s current gross income limit of 130 percent of poverty. However, if the state raised the gross income limit, she could qualify for SNAP benefits once her shelter and child care expenses are deducted.
This bill also takes steps to address one of the ongoing problems with the way our current benefit programs are structured. We know that there is a gap between the poverty line and what it takes for a family to meet all of its basic needs. Attached to my testimony is information from our annual Kids Count in Nebraska Report updating some data from an earlier report called the Family Bottom Line. This report attempts to quantify the cost of financial stability for families of different compositions in different areas of Nebraska. This data illustrates the gap that exists between poverty and self-sufficiency.
This difference becomes problematic because it often forces families to make a choice between accepting a small increase in earnings and not being able to feed their family or sacrificing increased earnings which could lead to greater financial stability in the long run in order to maintain program eligibility. LB 1010 begins to address this issue by allowing for greater flexibility in earnings for families who have high expenses for basic needs like child care and housing. Other states who have enacted this change found that the majority of newly eligible families were working families with children with a gross income between 130-150% of the federal poverty level.
As this committee is aware, our eligibility for child care assistance remains among the lowest in the nation and child care costs remain high. To help buffer the impact that out-of-pocket child care expenses can have on family food budgets, Congress in 1980 created a separate deduction in the Food Stamp Program for dependent care expenses. LB 1010 will assist low-income families who have high child care costs by allowing them to still qualify for the SNAP program if they receive a small increase in gross income. This is a practical programmatic change because it encourages working families to increase their earning potential while ensuring that their children are fed as they make the transition to increased financial stability.
We urge the committee to advance this bill. Thank you.