Electronic Benefits Payment System – North Carolina

NC’s online food assistance program produces long waits, frustration, By Thomas Goldsmith and Annalise Frank, August 5, 2013, News & Observer: “The state’s new electronic benefits payment system, aimed at greater efficiency, instead has Wake County food aid recipients waiting as long as eight or nine weeks for funds to arrive to put food on their tables. Longtime Southeast Raleigh activist Octavia Rainey told Wake County commissioners Monday that the problems have caused dozens of people to show up at her house to ask for help in getting food from churches, food banks and other sources. Known as NC FAST, the $48.2 million system was supposed to provide a new way to pay into recipients’ electronic bank accounts, but has been beset in Wake by repeated glitches and slowdowns…”

Drug Testing and Assistance Programs – North Carolina

Revised proposal still may deter welfare recipients, By Annalise Frank, July 8, 2013, Charlotte Observer: “An effort to require all welfare recipients to pass a drug test to qualify for benefits that passed the Senate earlier this session has been given a facelift, but advocates for the poor say it’s still an ugly bill. House Bill 392 requires county Social Services employees to do background checks on all applicants for Work First benefits – the state’s welfare program – and food stamps to ensure they’re not parole or probation violators, or have outstanding felony warrants. It also requires drug testing of any Work First recipient suspected of being a drug user. That provision is a step back from a bill the Senate passed in April that required drug testing for all Work First applicants. Worries over the legality of the Senate bill led lawmakers in the House to insert a new version of the testing requirement into the background checks bill…”

SNAP Application Process – New Jersey

N.J. among slowest with food-stamp applications, By Alfred Lubrano, July 7, 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer: “New Jersey is one of the slowest states in the nation in getting food stamps to needy people. Its performance is so poor, in fact, that the federal government is directing the state to improve, according to an examination of federal data by The Inquirer. States are required by U.S. law to get food stamps to people within 30 days, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food-stamp program, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Any state that cannot process more than 90 percent of its SNAP applications in that time must devise a plan that brings its timeliness up to 95 percent, USDA rules stipulate…”

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Florida

In Florida, a food-stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices, By Eli Saslow, April 23, 2013, Washington Post: “A good recruiter needs to be liked, so Dillie Nerios filled gift bags with dog toys for the dog people and cat food for the cat people. She packed crates of cookies, croissants, vegetables and fresh fruit. She curled her hair and painted her nails fluorescent pink. ‘A happy, it’s-all-good look,’ she said, checking her reflection in the rearview mirror. Then she drove along the Florida coast to sign people up for food stamps. Her destination on a recent morning was a 55-and-over community in central Florida, where single-wide trailers surround a parched golf course. On the drive, Nerios, 56, reviewed techniques she had learned for connecting with some of Florida’s most desperate senior citizens during two years on the job…”

Drug Testing and Assistance Programs – Texas

Bill to drug-test welfare applicants approved, By Chuck Lindell, March 26, 2013, Austin American-Statesman: “The Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved a bill to implement drug testing for welfare applicants after changes were made to ensure that benefits for children would continue despite a positive drug test for a parent. Benefits would be cut off only for the adult who tests positive for drugs, said the bill’s author, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. A second positive test would cancel the adult’s benefits for one year, though Temporary Assistance for Needy Families could be reinstated after six months with proof of completion or enrollment in a drug-rehabilitation program. A third drug test would produce a lifetime ban from welfare benefits, Nelson said…”

Access to Assistance Centers – Minneapolis, MN

Hennepin County moves social services out into community, By Julie Siple, February 13, 2013, Minnesota Public Radio: “A $40 million project in Hennepin County will bring government help closer to the people who need it. For two decades, county residents seeking assistance with food, money or health care have gone to the county’s main financial assistance center in downtown Minneapolis. Between 25,000 and 30,000 people visit the building every month. Hennepin County has a five-year plan to close that center and move services closer to clients by building six regional hubs, the first of which has been up and running for about four months in Brooklyn Center…”

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – New York City

Cuomo pushing city to end food-stamp fingerprinting, By John Eligon, May 17, 2012, New York Times: “New York City would have to stop requiring the electronic fingerprinting of food stamp applicants under regulations proposed on Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has sided with advocates for the hungry who say it discourages people from seeking benefits. New York State stopped requiring the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients in 2007, but granted an exemption to the city at the request of the Bloomberg administration, which said fingerprinting was the best way to prevent fraud. Mr. Cuomo said many New Yorkers eligible for the federal food stamp program did not receive them in part because of the stigma associated with being fingerprinted…”

Drug Testing and Assistance Programs – Ohio, Oklahoma

  • Ohio Senate Republicans pass budget bill without controversial drug testing language, By Aaron Marshall, May 16, 2012, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Ohio Senate Republicans dodged one fight Wednesday as they pulled back for now on a controversial proposal to drug test welfare applicants that had advocates for the poor and Democrats ready to rumble.  But another showdown looms as GOP senators approved a $30 million pot of nursing home funding that puts them on a collision course with Republican Gov. John Kasich. As quickly as the drug testing language appeared Tuesday afternoon — slipped into a wide-ranging budget and policy bill — it dropped out of sight Wednesday after GOP Sen. Tim Schaffer of Lancaster offered to remove the it, according to Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Clermont County Republican. After the Senate passed the midterm budget review bill by a vote of 25-8, Niehaus told reporters that Schaffer retreated before questions on the proposal started to fly from Kasich’s office, including how it could be implemented in rural areas without drug testing facilities…”
  • Welfare drug-screening bill is signed into Oklahoma law, By Michael McNutt, May 17, 2012, The Oklahoman: “Welfare recipients who test positive for drugs or refuse to be tested would have their benefits withheld under a bill signed into law Wednesday. The measure makes practices mostly already used by the state Department of Human Services a state law, an agency spokeswoman said. ‘The bill authors worked with us to understand our current process and what we were doing, and we worked with them to find out what the goals were that they wanted to achieve,’ said Sheree Powell, a DHS spokeswoman. ‘It basically puts into law our current practice…'”

Drug Testing and Assistance Programs

  • SC bill would require drug tests for welfare, By Seanna Cox (AP), March 22, 2012, Charlotte Observer: “Opponents of a bill requiring all welfare applicants in South Carolina to pass a drug test said Thursday the costly proposal would violate the constitution, but its sponsor said it’s a requirement constituents want. Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said if someone is using illegal drugs, they should not get a taxpayer-funded benefit. ‘There is no justification,’ he said. ‘How do we know those kids are getting the benefit of the welfare money versus their parents spending them on illegal drugs?’ Opponents said the legislation is unwarranted and fuels an inaccurate stereotype of poor people who need a boost. A House panel postponed voting on the bill Thursday. Young’s bill mimics a law in Florida that took effect last July and was blocked by a federal judge in October. During those interim months, less than 4 percent of applicants in that state tested positive…”
  • Bill to drug test welfare recipients advances, March 21, 2012, Mansfield News Journal: “A proposal that would drug test people as a condition of receiving welfare advanced Wednesday evening in the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville passed the Senate Health and Welfare Committee 7-1. The legislation is different from an original proposal that would have broadly tested people. In an opinion this week on that proposal and other pending bills that seek to drug test welfare recipients, Tennessee’s attorney general said the requirement would violate federal laws regulating Social Security, the federal food stamp program and the state Medicaid plan…”

Drug Testing and Assistance Programs

States consider drug testing welfare recipients, By Yamiche Alcindor, February 29, 2012, USA Today: “Getting welfare and food stamps may become tougher as 23 states around the USA seek to adopt stricter laws that would require public aid recipients to take drug tests. Florida law now requires all aid applicants to be drug tested while Arizona and Missouri require testing for anyone they ‘reasonably’ suspect of illegal drug use. For many, the proposed changes in states such as Wyoming, Illinois and Maryland will mean taking extra steps before receiving aid, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Resistance is likely to be heated, and the American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a challenge in Florida…”

Hybrid Welfare Eligibility System – Indiana

With Marion County on board, Indiana’s welfare system is now fully ‘hybrid’, By Mary Beth Schneider, February 20, 2012, Indianapolis Star: “Marion County today becomes the final county in the state to move to the so-called ‘hybrid’ welfare eligibility system. The change represents the final and perhaps biggest challenge for the state’s Family and Social Services Administration since the new system was implemented in January 2010. The number of people receiving benefits in Marion County is 20 percent of all welfare cases in the state. About 125,000 people in Marion County receive various services, including Medicaid and other health programs, food stamps and job training. Starting today, they’ll not only be able to visit the welfare offices as they are accustomed to doing — though some are in new locations — they also will be able to access records online and call a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week toll-free number to check benefits or report changes to their status. People now will be able to enroll online or walk into an office, without an appointment, to get help…”

SNAP Asset Tests – Michigan, Pennsylvania

Michigan, Pennsylvania put limits on families seeking food aid, By Kathy Barks Hoffman (AP), February 9, 2012, Chattanooga Times Free Press: “The 2010 Buick Enclave parked in her garage kept Michigan resident Renee Moore from getting food stamps for two months last year, even though her family’s income had dropped to below the poverty level, her husband’s Ford Explorer had 300,000 miles on it and her family had less than $1,000 in the bank. The reason? In the eyes of the state, she owned too much. Unlike other states that moved away from setting limits on what families like the Moores can own before they qualify for help, Michigan last year made it harder for thousands of residents to become eligible for food stamps by adopting new limits on what people can own. Pennsylvania also is toughening its so-called asset test, adding new restrictions on who gets government help. The move to redefine who’s truly needy comes after cash-strapped states saw a surge of applications for food stamp aid during the economic downturn. Still, leaders maintain the assistance needs to be targeted to those who need it most…”

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Pennsylvania, Connecticut

  • Corbett raises limit on assets for food stamps, but critics blast the idea of a test, By Alfred Lubrano, February 2, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Modifying its original proposal, the Corbett administration is raising the amount of assets a person can have to retain food stamps, drawing the ire of critics who say the asset test itself is improper. The state Department of Public Welfare on Wednesday announced that households with people under age 60 will be limited to $5,500 in assets. For households with people 60 and above, the figure is $9,000. Houses, retirement benefits, and one car would not be counted as assets. Any additional vehicle worth more than $4,650 would be counted. Asset testing will begin May 1…”
  • Pa.’s food stamp asset test will be easier than planned, By Karen Langley, February 2, 2012, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “The state said Wednesday that it is easing limits of an asset test it plans to reinstate for Pennsylvanians receiving food stamps. A total of 4,000 households are expected to lose their food stamps under the revised proposal by the state Department of Public Welfare. The plan sparked criticism from Democrats and advocates for the poor when it became public last month. Older people and the disabled with more than $9,000 in assets would no longer qualify for food stamps under a plan submitted Wednesday to federal officials. Those under age 60 would be disqualified if they have more than $5,500 in assets…”
  • Conn. working to fix troubled food stamps program, By Susan Haigh (AP), February 4, 2012, Boston Globe: “While a fraud scandal cast a cloud over a special emergency food aid program following Hurricane Irene, the state is working to address deeper troubles that have plagued the traditional food stamps program, including high error rates, slow response times and an antiquated computer system. Connecticut is ranked last among all the states and territories for processing applications for the federal program in a timely manner. In 2006, the state was processing 81 percent of applications on a timely basis. But that dropped to 59 percent in 2010 and the head of the Connecticut Department of Social Services said the current rate is even worse…”

State SNAP Policies – Florida, Kansas, New York

  • Food stamp bills seek to restrict junk food, By Richard Fausset, January 29, 2012, Los Angeles Times: “Ronda Storms is a Republican state senator from Florida. She is also a mom who buys the groceries for her family of four. A few months ago, Storms, 46, started noticing that some fellow shoppers were using federal food stamp money to purchase a lot of unhealthful junk. And it galled her – at a time when Florida was cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates, public school funding and jobs – that people were indulging in sugary, fatty, highly-processed treats on the public dime. ‘If we’re going to be cutting services across the board,’ she said, ‘then people can live without potato chips, without store-bought cookies, without their sodas.’ That sense of unfairness, plus a concern about the health of needy children, is the motivation behind a bill Storms sponsored that would prohibit people from purchasing ‘nonstaple, unhealthy foods’ with funds provided by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP…”
  • No more treats with food stamps?, By Kathleen Haughney, January 31, 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “Should the state be able to prevent people from using food stamps to buy junk food at the grocery store? For Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, the answer is yes. The two lawmakers are sponsoring legislation – HB 1401 and SB 1658 – that would ban the use of food stamps to buy items such as soda and sweets like candy, cake or ice cream. ‘Should the taxpayer foot the bill for Mountain Dew?’ Storms asked the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee last week. Said Plakon to the House Health and Human Services Access Subcommittee on Monday: ‘You can’t buy certain items in the grocery store right now with food stamps. We’re just talking about how big that list is.’ But the issue has ignited criticism, generating complaints even from Plakon’s and Storms’ GOP colleagues…”
  • Brownback officials defend Kansas’ new food stamp policy, By Brad Cooper, January 31, 2012, Kansas City Star: “Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration on Monday fended off suggestions that it is trying to ferret out undocumented immigrants with a new Kansas policy that cuts food stamp benefits for anyone in the country illegally. Appearing before the House Appropriations Committee, a top official at the state social services agency said the new food stamp policy is only intended to level the playing field between U.S. citizens and illegal immigrants. Michelle Schroeder, the agency’s policy director, told the committee that the new food stamp policy is intended to eliminate discriminatory elements of the old policy. ‘We could have kept the previous policy,’ Schroeder told the committee. ‘We just thought it was better policy to equalize the way we treat income for all households.’ Under the new formula, the state uses the entire income of all members of a household in determining eligibility…”
  • The clash over fingerprinting for food stamps, By Cindy Rodriguez, January 30, 2012, National Public Radio: “Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants New York City to stop requiring fingerprinting of its food stamp recipients, a stance that puts him at odds with the city’s mayor, who favors the practice. Cuomo says fingerprinting stigmatizes needy people and stops them from applying for help. In a recent State of the State speech, Cuomo pledged to stop fingerprinting food stamp recipients this year. But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says without fingerprinting, fraud would escalate. Besides Arizona, New York is the only place where the policy still exists…”

Drug Testing and Assistance Programs – Virginia, Indiana

  • Welfare drug testing bill whips up debate in state legislature, By Mike Sluss, January 25, 2012, Roanoke Times: “A House of Delegates committee has advanced legislation that would require drug testing of Virginia welfare recipients, despite objections from Democrats who argued that the proposal amounts to a targeted attack on poor people. The legislation – House Bill 73 – would require local social services agencies to screen recipients in the state welfare program to determine whether they use illegal drugs. Those who refuse to comply or fail a drug test would lose Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits for one year unless they enter a drug treatment program. A recipient would have one opportunity to be reinstated to the program by complying with screening, assessment and treatment requirements…”
  • Welfare drug-testing bill passes on to vote from full House, By Maureen Hayden, January 25, 2012, News and Tribune: “Indiana lawmakers are pushing forward on legislation that would cut off cash assistance to welfare recipients who fail drug tests. In a 15-5 vote that crossed party lines, the House Committee on Ways and Means approved a bill that would require the state’s Family and Social Services Agency to test out a drug-screening program on a small scale before it was launched statewide. It now goes to the full House for a vote. The focus is narrow: The FSSA would implement the drug-screening program in three test counties for a two-year period, then report back to the legislature. The drug-screening would only apply to adults who are receiving cash payments through a program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF…”

Food Banks and SNAP – Georgia

Deluged nonprofits help needy get food stamps, By April Hunt, January 3, 2012, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Teresa Ashe took a break from looking for work on a recent rainy morning to fill out the necessary paperwork that would get her a week’s worth of food. But the laid-off housekeeper didn’t rush home to tuck into the offerings of tinned stew or boxes of mac and cheese from the Christian Aid Mission Partnership, or CAMP, food pantry in Austell. She waited in the office so she could meet with an expert to help her apply online for food stamps. If approved, she will be eating more fresh vegetables and meat for her new year job hunt. ‘I don’t know what’s going to come next,’ said Ashe, whose unemployment benefits ran out the week before Christmas. ‘It’s going to be thin until I can find a job. I can use the help.’ Ashe is hardly alone. Faced with a record number of hungry Georgians, food-bank operators and state officials have teamed up to find more potential recipients of the food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program…”

Stateline.org Series on State Agency Backlogs

  • Short-staffed and budget-bare, overwhelmed state agencies are unable to keep up, By Melissa Maynard, December 13, 2011, Stateline.org: “On the face of it, the backlog the Hawaii Public Housing Authority is experiencing seems a simple matter of supply and demand. Some 11,000 families are on the authority’s waiting list, hoping against the odds that they can get one of only 6,295 public housing units. In a state where housing is notoriously expensive, the only people with a real shot at getting a unit are the homeless and survivors of domestic abuse. Even for them, the waiting can take years. ‘The waitlist is so extensive and the homeless problem is so great that a lot of people are getting preference over working families,’ explains Nicholas Birck, chief planner for the Hawaii Public Housing Authority. ‘They never make it to the top.’ But there’s another, hidden problem at play in Hawaii’s housing backlog. Lately, the authority hasn’t had enough employees to manage turnover in vacant units. As a result, 310 homes have been sitting empty, even with all the people languishing in waitlist limbo. For many of the vacant units, all it would take is a few simple repairs and a little bit of administrative work to give a family a home – and get the authority’s backlog shrinking rather than growing…”
  • Anatomy of a backlog: How Vermont fell behind on adult protective services, By Melissa Maynard, December 14, 2011, Stateline.org: “Cerebral palsy does not thwart Chris Osborne’s passion for chess and all kinds of music, from hard rock to opera. But Chris, who is 25 and lives near Burlington, does depend on others to dress, feed and bathe him, as well as to clean and change his feeding tube. He can communicate only through a digital device or an eye-gaze board, which allows him to spell words by looking at the letters. Last year, Chris’ mother, Nancy Osborne, and her fiancé, Art Demarais, began to suspect that the professional caretaker living with Chris in his apartment had stopped doing key parts of his job. Sometimes, when Chris came home to visit, Nancy noticed that her son was caked in dirt and covered with rashes. Chris had made multiple trips to the emergency room to treat infections related to improper cleaning of his feeding tube. And he often complained of being hungry: Thin to begin with, Chris lost 23 pounds in six months…”
  • Overcoming a backlog: How Texas conquered a mountain of food stamps applications, By Melissa Maynard, December 15, 2011, Stateline.org: “Two years ago, the 316 offices in Texas where people go to sign up for food stamps were the very image of a government backlog. Long lines of frustrated people, many of them hungry, snaked through dingy spaces designed to handle much smaller crowds. The back offices weren’t much better. Desks of state employees were littered with piles of applications – in boxes under workers’ desks and stacked on top of them – that hadn’t yet been entered into the state’s computer systems. Texas was the worst state in the country at performing a straightforward task: giving food stamp applicants a yes or no within 30 days in normal cases and 7 days for emergency cases. That’s the standard set by the federal government, which oversees the state-run program. According to state data, at the height of the backlog in November 2009, Texas processed only 57.5 percent of new applications on time. In reality, the problem was much worse because stacks of pending applications weren’t properly being counted as part of the problem…”

Drug Testing and Assistance Programs – Florida

Florida’s welfare drug testing halted by federal judge, By Rebecca Catalanello, October 25, 2011, Miami Herald: “A federal judge in Orlando on Monday temporarily blocked Florida’s controversial law requiring welfare applicants be drug tested in order to receive benefits. Judge Mary Scriven issued a temporary injunction against the state, writing in a 37-page order that the law could violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on illegal search and seizure. ‘The constitutional rights of a class of citizen are at stake,’ Scriven wrote. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state last month on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Navy veteran and single father from Orlando who is finishing his college degree. Lebron met all the criteria for receiving welfare, but refused to submit to a drug test on the grounds that requiring him to pay for and submit to one is unreasonable when there is no reason to believe he uses drugs…”

State Benefit Eligibility Systems

States retool food stamp, benefits systems, By Pamela M. Prah, October 21, 2011, Stateline.org: “Food stamp applicants in California and Texas no longer have to be fingerprinted, a change both states hope will save money and improve the process of distribution. That makes Arizona and New York City the only remaining jurisdictions that fingerprint – a requirement that opponents say scares off the needy from applying for food stamps while doing little to combat fraud. The changes in California and Texas reflect a larger movement at the state level, spurred on by the recession and a record number of Americans getting food stamps and other public assistance: States are trying to make it easier for those seeking help and cheaper for state workers who process the applications and provide the benefits…”

Hybrid Welfare Eligibility System – Indiana

FSSA hopes new hybrid system aids service, By Dorothy Schneider, October 16, 2011, Lafayette Journal and Courier: “Richard Graves has had his share of frustration in dealing with the local office for the Indiana Department of Families and Social Services Administration. He can recount tales of lost paperwork and unreturned phone calls, as he has worked to oversee his granddaughter’s Medicaid coverage. ‘I haven’t talked to the caseworker in two years,’ Graves said. Complaints about the state’s FSSA case management are nothing new, but Indiana officials are hoping they lessen as ongoing improvements to the application system are rolled out across the state…”