SNAPvote[UPDATE: This bill passed its “second reading” today and is scheduled for a final vote in the Senate next Monday.] Another “you can’t make this stuff up” bill has emerged in the final days of the 2015 state legislative session. Under an amendment tacked on to a bill originally designed to target the employment of undocumented immigrants, SNAP benefits (i.e. Food Stamps) would be made significantly harder to obtain for childless adults in struggling parts of North Carolina.

Here’s the deal:

SNAP benefits are limited under federal law to three months out of every three years for childless, non-disabled adults unless they are working at least half time, participating in a qualified job training program for 20 hours a week, or in workfare. This time limit applies regardless of whether these individuals are actually able to find employment or training opportunities.

This can obviously work a great hardship. In North Carolina, for example, 83 counties actually have more jobless workers than job openings.

Thankfully, federal allows states to suspend the time limit in areas with high unemployment. As a result, every state except Delaware has waived the time limit for at least part of their state at some point. During the recent recession, many states qualified for state-wide waivers from the time limit. Most states will have to reimpose the time limit for at least part of their state in 2016. North Carolina has already applied for a waiver for 77 of the state’s 100 counties — i.e. the ones with high unemployment rates.

Absurdly, however, under the new provision (click here and scroll to page 6) the Department of Health and Human Services would be barred from applying for a waiver, effectively reimposing the time limit even though parts of the state qualify for a waiver due to high unemployment. This unnecessarily restricts food assistance for poor childless adults in areas where the economy has not yet fully recovered.

This bill would further prevent the state from ever requesting a waiver, removing an important state response to future economic downturns.

The bottom line: If the bill becomes law, a large number of hurting North Carolinians in some of the state’s least healthy communities will lose yet another small lifeline that allows them to survive. On the day Pope Francis is receiving global accolades for calling on Americans to help the poor, North Carolina lawmakers are, once more, doing the exact opposite.

Adjournment of the 2015 session cannot come soon enough.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Food assistance for vulnerable communities would be slashed deeply under budget resolutions that the US House and Senate budget committees approved last week. The cuts would likely increase hunger, thrust more people into poverty, and push families that are poor even deeper into poverty. Considering that North Carolina has the 5th highest level of food insecurity in the nation, the proposals would deliver a huge blow to North Carolinians living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to provide food to their families.

Under the House plan, the SNAP program—formerly known as food stamps—would be block-granted and cut by at least $125 billion, or one-third, between 2021 and 2025, according to experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). There is some flexibility in terms of how states would be able to carry out the deep funding cuts. If states decided to rely solely on benefits cuts, the average SNAP recipient would face a $55 per month cut in food assistance. For a family of 4 that cut is about $200 a month—or worth about one-quarter of a very low-cost meal plan. States could also turn to eligibility cuts and reduce income limits to achieve the cuts. Either way, cuts of this magnitude will bring harm to families, children, and other vulnerable groups.

North Carolina would lose at least $3.8 billion in food aid over those five years. That would force North Carolina policymakers to make some very difficult decisions about whose food assistance to reduce or terminate, impacting many Tar Heel families who already find it difficult to pay the bills and meet their most basic needs. Read More

NCGA food drive

House Speaker Tim Moore – Photo:

As Chris Fitzsimon aptly noted last Thanksgiving, there are few things more maddening in the world of state politics than the spectacle of lawmakers piously calling for donations to help the poor even as they enact and defend new policies to do precisely the opposite.

Yet, here we are again today, watching as state legislative leaders “team up” with the state’s Retail Merchants Association to hold a “food drive” at the General Assembly just months after having concluded a legislative session that slashed unemployment insurance, eliminated the state Earned Income Tax Credit for working families, cut child care subsidies to thousands and denied affordable heath insurance to hundreds of thousands.

As Chris wrote last November:

“You’ve probably seen the request from a politician, asking you to donate generously to your local rescue mission, food pantry, emergency shelter or medical clinic. And you should. They do incredible work to help children and families who are struggling to survive.

But there’s a disconnect somehow in the holiday message and the rhetoric we hear from many political leaders and right-wing pundits the rest of the time. Low-income families and unemployed workers don’t fare so well in their press releases and talking points then.

Instead they are portrayed as lazy, people who are living off the government, who aren’t looking hard enough to find a job.

They are ‘takers’ we are told, the 47 percent that Mitt Romney so famously derided in the 2012 presidential campaign.

They need to help themselves, pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Those are the clichés and the stereotypes we hear about the poor and the unemployed in Raleigh and Washington, that helping people who are struggling only breeds dependence and makes them less likely to do what they need to do to lift themselves out of poverty.

And it goes beyond legitimate questions about the effectiveness of specific anti-poverty programs. It’s somehow become acceptable in the current political debate to blame people for their struggles, to question their character.”

The hard and plain truth: Even under the best of circumstances, private charitable efforts like food drives will always remain a small part of the solution to the problems of hunger and poverty in our state. Meanwhile, state political leaders continue to blame people in need and undermine the public structures that actually have the capacity to make a large and permanent difference.


North Carolina’s food stamps program continues to face major problems in how it operates and monitors federal funds for low-income families struggling to get food on their tables, according to a recent report by federal officials.

NC FAST logoA strongly worded management evaluation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  listed more than 38 faults with North Carolina’s system, ranging from “critical findings” regarding a lack of oversight at the state level to regulatory violations about what is included on applications for food assistance.

“There are critical findings in the Claims/TOP area that are related to a lack of State oversight and monitoring,” read one finding in the 19-page report. (Scroll down to read the report itself.)

The major findings also included a “lack of State oversight in Recipient Integrity” that led to instances of potential fraud not being referred to for prosecution and “serious findings” in the state’s employment and training program.

The Sept. 10 management evaluation rested on visits that officials from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service office made in May and June where operations were observed at the state level, as well as in social services offices in Guilford, Pitt and Wake counties.

It requires DHHS to provide a corrective action plan within the next 60 days.

The report came on the heels of a major breakdwon in North Carolina’s food stamps delivery system last year that left thousands of low-income families without access to food assistance for weeks or months. The problems were attributed to glitches in a new technology system, N.C. FAST (Families Assessing Services through Technology) and issues that county-level workers had in accessing the new system while struggling under heavy caseloads.

Read More


Food bankBefore you sit down to open presents or enjoy a holiday feast tomorrow or at some other point over the coming days, take a moment or two to read Sarah Ovaska’s Christmas Eve story over on the main Policy Watch site — it’s called “Hungry, with no end in sight.”

After you’ve done that, take a few more minutes to contemplate what it would be like to rely like Sylvia Cameron on a paltry sum in SNAP benefits (i.e. Food Stamps) and the charity of others just to survive and stay nourished each month.

Next, briefly ruminate on the fact that a shocking percentage of your neighbors are in just such a boat — the vast majority of them good, honest, working people (and a huge percentage children).

Finally, if you make it this far, take at least a moment to consider the fact that this situation — one that does not exist in many other modern nations — might just not be the fault of those who are hungry and, in fact, might be, at least in some small measure, all of our responsibility.

You can read Sarah’s article by clicking here.