NC Senate budget strips food assistance from children and families

As we wrote about last week, the Senate budget seeks to permanently prevent North Carolina from providing food assistance to low-income families with children through a process known as broad-based categorical eligibility (CAT EL).

A special data request to the Department of Health and Human Services finds that eliminating CAT EL would strip food assistance from more than 133,000 low-income North Carolinians, 51,345 of whom are children who could also lose free or reduced cost school lunch.

Thirty-six percent of the households that will lose food assistance have children, 28 percent support elders, and 23 percent are households with people who have disabilities.

What is most egregious about this provision is that SNAP is completely federally funded. The elimination of CAT El would result in ZERO cost savings to the state.

Not only will this bill result in zero savings, it is very likely that it will increase state administrative costs and hurt local economies. Eliminating broad-based CAT EL makes FNS rules more complicated and burdensome on the Division of Social Services. Rules will have to be changed, NC FAST (the state’s new benefits delivery system) and applications will have to be modified, and staff will have to be retrained. By reducing efficiency and increasing workload, this would likely increase administrative costs—the only state costs associated with FNS benefits—and potentially raise FNS error rates.

The immediate impact of reducing access to food assistance will ripple through local economies as well when families do not have the very modest resources (the average impacted household receives only $68.74 a month) to purchase groceries in their community.  In the long-term, a lack of access to food will impact the health outcomes of families, and, for children, it has been linked to lower educational attainment and lifetime earnings.

There is absolutely no fiscal rational to stripping critical food assistance from tens of thousands of North Carolinians in need. Rather than looking out for the best interest of North Carolinians, state policy makers are choosing to play politics.

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