Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

  • Health law brings growth in food stamps in some states, By Carla K. Johnson and David Mercer (AP), April 22, 2015, ABC News: “President Barack Obama’s health care law has had a surprising side effect: In some states, it appears to be enticing more Americans to apply for food stamps, even as the economy improves.  New, streamlined application systems built for the health care overhaul are making it easier for people to enroll in government benefit programs, including insurance coverage and food stamps…”
  • Pa. to eliminate asset test for food stamps, By Alfred Lubrano, April 21, 2015, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Pennsylvania will eliminate the asset test for food stamps as of Monday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services announced Tuesday evening. The controversial test, initiated by then-Gov. Tom Corbett in 2012, ties federal food-stamp benefits – now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – to people’s bank accounts and car ownership.  Corbett saw the test as a way to cut down on fraud and waste…”

Miami Herald Series on Medicaid Coverage Gap

Life in Florida without Medicaid expansion, series homepage, Miami Herald: “For two years, Florida legislators have refused to expand Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. Their decision left an estimated 850,000 Floridians without healthcare insurance in the ‘coverage gap.’ Those caught in the gap earn too much to receive Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidies to buy a plan through the federal marketplace. The Miami Herald looks at how these Floridians are coping and what other states are doing to close the gap…”

State Unemployment Insurance Trust Funds

Could states afford jobless benefits if another recession hits?, By Jake Grovum, April 22, 2015, Stateline: “Tens of billions of dollars in debt. Cuts to jobless aid that have been called ‘historic and disturbing.’ Unemployment insurance trust funds that are still clawing their way back to solvency.  This is the Great Recession’s legacy for the nation’s unemployment safety net. The sustained downturn and spike in joblessness stressed state programs to an extent not seen in decades, requiring emergency federal aid. Now, unemployment nationwide has fallen to 5.5 percent and the amount of unemployment benefits paid in the states has dropped to pre-recession norms in many cases. Federal jobless aid to extend benefits expired last year.  Yet many state unemployment insurance trust funds still face a deficit. Those that are in the black often have balances below pre-recession peaks. And many states are paying less in benefits. The result is a safety net significantly weaker than it was before the recession…”

Home Visiting Programs

This may be the most effective anti-poverty program In America, By Jonathan Cohn, April 21, 2015, Huffington Post: “Luisa Cintron, 25, is sitting up as straight as she can, perched on the edge of the neatly made bed that doubles as a couch inside her dimly lit apartment. She is wearing a sweater and slacks, talking about the government program that she says changed her life, and trying — without much success — not to get distracted by the 4-year-old talking loudly about Batman in the next room.  The 4-year-old is Luisa’s son, Maliek. And not so long ago, Luisa explains, Maliek wouldn’t have been talking about superheroes — or anything else for that matter. At 18 months, well past the time that babies usually start forming words, Maliek was still ‘non-verbal’ and communicating almost exclusively through gestures. ‘It was always pointing at this, crying at that,’ Luisa says. Delayed speech wasn’t Maliek’s only problem. He also had a severe case of eczema that caused him to bleed into his clothing and sleep fitfully, if at all. It further impaired his ability to learn, and made for yet more tension at home…”

Kids Count Report – New Jersey

  • Minority children in N.J. likeliest to be poor, unhealthy, struggle in school, report says, By Susan K. Livio, April 20, 2015, Star-Ledger: “Black and Latino children in New Jersey are far more likely to live in poverty, struggle in school, and get caught up in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems than white and Asian children, according to the latest annual Kids Count report.  The report, released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey for the first time focused on the impact race has on family health and stability. With nearly half the population of children in the state being black, Latino, Asian or a mix of races, the group hopes this focus will urge lawmakers and policy makers to pay attention to the needs of minority families, said Cecilia Zalkind, the executive director…”
  • N.J.’s poorest children in Atlantic, Cumberland counties, report says, By Diane D’Amico, April 20, 2015, Press of Atlantic City: “Cumberland and Atlantic counties remain at the bottom of the state for child well-being according to the 2015 New Jersey Kids Count report released Monday, ranking 21st and 20th among the state’s 21 counties. Atlantic County had a 60 percent increase in the number of children living in poverty between 2009 and 2013, among the largest increases in the state…”

State Medicaid Costs

  • Alabama Medicaid burden rising more slowly than most states, study shows, By Brendan Kirby, April 23, 2015, Press-Register: “During Alabama’s latest budget crisis, lawmakers often have pointed to out-of-control Medicaid costs as one of the leading culprits. A report released Wednesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts, however, suggests that costs relative to state revenues have been much more manageable in Alabama than most other states over the past decade…”
  • State Medicaid costs grow, By Phil Kabler, April 22, 2015, Charleston Gazette: “Medicaid costs accounted for 11.4 percent of the state’s general revenue budget in 2013, up from 8 percent in 2000, a study released Wednesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows. Still, that was below the national average of 16.9 percent in 2013, an average that grew from 12.2 percent in 2000…”

Child Support Enforcement

Skip child support. Go to jail. Lose job. Repeat., By Frances Robles and Shaila Dewan, April 19, 2015, New York Times: “By his own telling, the first time Walter L. Scott went to jail for failure to pay child support, it sent his life into a tailspin. He lost what he called ‘the best job I ever had’ when he spent two weeks in jail. Some years he paid. More recently, he had not. Two years ago, when his debt reached nearly $8,000 and he missed a court date, a warrant was issued for his arrest. By last month, the amount had more than doubled, to just over $18,000…”

Rapid Rehousing

Attacking homelessness with ‘rapid rehousing’, By Tim Henderson, April 21, 2015, Stateline: “Two years ago Jenaie Scott had a $20 an hour cleaning job, which was plenty to cover the rent for a modest apartment on the west side of this state’s capital city. But Scott lost the job in a 2013 downsizing, setting off a downward spiral that led her and 5-year-old son Jyaire into homelessness. ‘I had other jobs, but they just didn’t pay enough, and eventually they put an eviction notice on my door,’ Scott recalled. She and Jyaire moved in with relatives, then begged for space in the back room of a church and finally started sleeping in her car. ‘I came here crying. I was so upset,’ Scott said from the offices of Catholic Charities in Trenton, where she turned for help last year. With her strong history of work, she qualified for a local ‘rapid rehousing’ program, which put her and her son in an apartment within a month…”

Wisconsin Poverty Report

Despite job gains, poverty in Wisconsin ticks up, report says, By Bill Glauber, April 20, 2015, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Despite modest improvement in employment, poverty rose slightly in Wisconsin between 2012 and 2013, according to a study released Tuesday by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers. The Wisconsin Poverty Measure rose from 10.2% in 2012 to 10.9% in 2013, around 2.5 percentage points below the official poverty rate. The figures are contained in the seventh Wisconsin Poverty Report produced by the Institute for Research on Poverty…”

States and Medicaid Coverage

  • Under Obamacare, Medicaid now covers one-fifth of N.J. residents, By Kathleen O’Brien, April 14, 2015, Star-Ledger: “Medicaid, the public health insurance program expanded under the Affordable Care Act, now covers nearly one out of every five New Jersey residents, according to the latest enrollment figures.  More than 420,000 people signed up for insurance since New Jersey allowed more people to into the program, according to Valerie Harr, director of the division of medical assistance and health services for the N.J. Department of Human Services…”
  • Some states pay doctors more to treat Medicaid patients, By Michael Ollove, April 17, 2015, Stateline: “Fifteen states are betting they can convince more doctors to accept the growing number of patients covered by Medicaid with a simple incentive: more money.  The Affordable Care Act gave states federal dollars to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care services—but only temporarily. The federal spigot ran dry on Jan. 1. Fearing that lowering the rates would exacerbate the shortage of primary care doctors willing to accept patients on Medicaid, the 15 states are dipping into their own coffers to continue to pay the doctors more.  It seems to be working…”

Housing First – Utah

The surprisingly simple way Utah solved chronic homelessness and saved millions, By Terrence McCoy, April 17, 2015, Washington Post: “The story of how Utah solved chronic homelessness begins in 2003, inside a cavernous Las Vegas banquet hall populated by droves of suits. The problem at hand was seemingly intractable. The number of chronic homeless had surged since the early 1970s. And related costs were soaring. A University of Pennsylvania study had just showed New York City was dropping a staggering $40,500 in annual costs on every homeless person with mental problems, who account for many of the chronically homeless. So that day, as officials spit-balled ideas, a social researcher named Sam Tsemberis stood to deliver what he framed as a surprisingly simple, cost-effective method of ending chronic homelessness.  Give homes to the homeless…”

Foster Children and Antipsychotic Drug Prescriptions – California

Use of meds by L.A. County foster, delinquent kids prompts reform, By Garrett Therolf, April 7, 2015, Los Angeles Times: “Los Angeles County officials are preparing to crack down on doctors who inappropriately prescribe powerful psychiatric drugs to foster youth and children in the juvenile delinquency system, according to a copy of the plans obtained by The Times.  Social workers and child welfare advocates have long alleged that the widespread use of the drugs is fueled in part by some caretakers’ desire to make the children in their care more docile. On May 1, the county Department of Mental Health is scheduled to launch a program to use computer programs to identify doctors who have a pattern of overprescribing the medications or prescribing unsafe combinations of the drugs…”

Internet Access for the Homeless

Fighting homelessness, one smartphone at a time, By Claire Cain Miller, April 14, 2015, New York Times: “Holly Leonard has been homeless on and off for years. There was a stint in jail and, more recently, a period in a women’s homeless shelter, while her husband slept in their car. But last month, the two moved into a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose, Calif., complete with a small garden. Ms. Leonard found it on Craigslist while using her Nexus 5 smartphone — a donation from Google that she got from a San Jose nonprofit called Community Technology Alliance…”

Working Families and Public Assistance

  • Working, but needing public assistance anyway, By Patricia Cohen, April 12, 2015, New York Times: “A home health care worker in Durham, N.C.; a McDonald’s cashier in Chicago; a bank teller in New York; an adjunct professor in Maywood, Ill. They are all evidence of an improving economy, because they are working and not among the steadily declining ranks of the unemployed.  Yet these same people also are on public assistance — relying on food stamps, Medicaid or other stretches of the safety net to help cover basic expenses when their paychecks come up short.  And they are not alone. Nearly three-quarters of the people helped by programs geared to the poor are members of a family headed by a worker, according to a new study by the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California. As a result, taxpayers are providing not only support to the poor but also, in effect, a huge subsidy for employers of low-wage workers, from giants like McDonald’s and Walmart to mom-and-pop businesses…”
  • Get a job? Most welfare recipients already have one, By Eric Morath, April 13, 2015, Wall Street Journal: “It’s poor-paying jobs, not unemployment, that strains the welfare system.  That’s one key finding from a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that showed the majority of households receiving government assistance are headed by a working adult.  The study found that 56% of federal and state dollars spent between 2009 and 2011 on welfare programs — including Medicaid, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit— flowed to working families and individuals with jobs. In some industries, about half the workforce relies on welfare…”

Food Insecurity in the US

Hunger strikes even rich U.S. counties, By Marisol Bello, April 13, 2015, USA Today: “Loudoun County in Virginia is made up of one of the wealthiest communities in the USA. But it’s also where Barbara Diaz, a nanny, struggles to feed her family of eight. While the median income in the county stands at $122,000 a year, Diaz, 55, makes about $21,600 a year as a nanny. With her salary, she has to feed her family and pay rent, car insurance and utilities. Often, she doesn’t have enough at the end of the month for food, so she turns regularly to her local food pantry for help. Diaz and her family are among the 46 million Americans who have a meal gap, in which they can’t afford to pay for three meals a day, according to a new report titled ‘Map the Meal Gap’ by Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks nationwide. The food banks provide food to pantries…”

States and Welfare Reform

  • States take aim at social welfare programs, By Tierney Sneed, April 9, 2015, US News: “State lawmakers attracted national attention this week for seeking to ban the use of welfare funds on lingerie, fortune tellers or even cookies, proposals that reflect a renewed focus on scrutinizing the social safety net as the country rebounds from the Great Recession.  A Missouri bill introduced by Republican state Rep. Rick Brattin would outlaw the use of welfare funds to purchase chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood and steak. Kansas legislation, which has passed both chambers and is on its way to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk, is a more comprehensive overhaul of how the state administers its benefits.  Critics say such measures stigmatize the poor and that Republicans, who are often behind the efforts, are simply playing politics in limiting assistance programs – especially since the money is provided by the federal government rather than the state. Proponents point out that states still share the administrative costs and have an interest in pursuing programs that are effective in getting people back to work, regardless of how they’re funded​…”
  • Why is Kansas pursuing tougher welfare rules?, By Amanda Paulson, April 7, 2015, Christian Science Monitor: “Starting in July, welfare recipients in Kansas won’t be able to use government aid to go to a tattoo parlor, nail salon, movie theater, or swimming pool, among other spots, assuming Gov. Sam Brownback signs the measure passed by the state legislature.  The maximum they can withdraw from an ATM will also be limited, to $25 a day. They won’t be able to spend their benefits out of state, and the maximum amount of time they can receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) over the course of a lifetime will be reduced from 48 to 36 months.  States have great discretion with regard to the rules they can put in place for TANF block grants, and a number of states have sought to limit in various ways how recipients can use those funds. But the bill in Kansas, as well as measures being debated in Missouri that would severely curb eligibility and impose restrictions on how recipients can use their aid, appear to take the constraints to a new level. They also don’t seem to be driven primarily by fiscal reasons, but rather by ideological ones, observers say…”

Medicaid Expansion and Mental Health Treatment

Medicaid expansion would have helped 18,400 mentally ill Louisianians in 2014, study says, By Rebecca Catalanello, New Orleans Times-Picayune: “More than 18,400 uninsured Louisianians diagnosed with mental health conditions were denied access to affordable mental health treatment last year — care that would have been available to them if the state’s leaders expanded Medicaid as allowed by federal law, a new study shows. The American Mental Health Counselors Association examined the impact of Medicaid expansion on the mentally ill in the United States and found that more than a half-million uninsured adults were diagnosed with a serious mental health at the beginning of 2014, but did not get treated because they lived in the 24 states that did not expand Medicaid as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allows…”

Wage-Theft Claims – California

Few California workers win back pay in wage-theft cases, By Chris Kirkham ad Tiffany Hsu, April 6, 2015, Los Angeles Times: “Noe Flores had been cooking pork belly buns and duck tacos for more than a month in 2011 at the popular Flying Pig food truck — often logging 12-hour days, six days a week.  When he asked why he hadn’t received his first paycheck on the new job, Flores said, owner Joe Kim offered an odd answer: This part of the job was an unpaid apprenticeship, lasting up to two months.  Flores and three other employees filed a claim seeking back pay with the state, which ordered Kim’s business to pay Flores more than $11,000. But nearly four years after he left the Flying Pig, he said, he’s received only a fraction of the total — and the payments have stopped…”

Driver’s License Suspensions

  • Driver’s license suspensions push poor deeper into poverty, report says, By Lee Romney, April 8, 2015, Los Angeles Times: “Traffic-court fines layered with escalating fees and penalties have led to driver’s license suspensions for 4.2 million Californians — or one in six drivers — pushing many low-income people deeper into poverty, a report released Wednesday by a coalition of legal aid groups found. The report calls for, among other things, an end to license suspensions for unpaid tickets and a reduction in fees and penalties that raise a $100 fine to $490 — or $815 if the initial deadline to pay is missed…”
  • Economic disparity is seen in California driver’s license suspensions, By Timothy Williams, April 8, 2015, New York Times: “Drivers in California who are unable to pay traffic fines for minor infractions are frequently having their licenses suspended by traffic courts — a policy that has had a disproportionate impact on poor and working-class people, according to a study released Wednesday. In an Alameda County traffic court case, for example, a $25 ticket given to a motorist who had failed to update the home address on her driver’s license within the state law’s allotted 10 days led a traffic court judge to suspend her license when she was unable to pay the fine…”

Earned Income Tax Credit

Working poor bank on tax break in costly California, By Erica E. Phillips, April 6, 2015, Nasdaq.com: “For 30 years, Modesto Alejandro Vasquez has supported his family of four by working as a janitor in a downtown office building here. In 2014, he made about $30,000. Earning 25% above the federal poverty level in costly Southern California, Mr. Vasquez looks forward to this time of year, when a tax refund puts extra cash in his pocket. He said he used the money–$6,000 this year–to pay off debts and repair a computer for his daughter.  A large portion of the refund came via the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is intended to aid the working poor by reducing the amount of taxes owed, or in many cases, like Mr. Vasquez’s, by providing a refund, based on a taxpayer’s income and number of dependents.  California lawmakers, responding to the state’s nation-leading poverty level, are considering the creation of a state EITC program…”