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Policy Points from Iowa Fiscal Partners

Posts tagged SNAP

Avoid snap judgments on SNAP use

Posted April 10th, 2015 to Blog

Legislators have enough to do finding answers to real problems. However, some seem ready to invent problems so they can come to the rescue.

Case in point: the Missouri representative who wants to stop food assistance recipients from buying steak.

Photos, please, of this actually happening. Because common sense tells us that other than some unusual case or two, it’s just not the way people allocate their meager food assistance benefit.

Why? Let’s look at the average benefit in Iowa from SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps.

People who qualify for SNAP are making less than $2,200 a month in a three-person family, about $2,600 in a four-person family. On average, their SNAP benefit as of March was about $1.18 per person per meal. That’s why they call it “supplemental” assistance: On its own, SNAP is not enough to keep bellies full, let alone fully support good family nutrition.

SNAP is there to help people piece together what they need to get by. SNAP is part of a mix of resources that includes a share of a low-wage family’s own earnings, and probably the help of a local food pantry.

During the Great Recession, SNAP clearly helped Iowans. In our slow recovery from the last national recession, the number of SNAP recipients rose to over 423,000. As things have gotten better, that number has steadily fallen and was under 393,000 as of last month — a decline of 7 percent. That’s the way it is supposed to work.

But for those who still need it, SNAP is there. This critical point should not be missed by distractions like the bill in Missouri, or others that may crop up — even in our state.

The fact that SNAP exists says more about us as a nation than do snarky shoppers who stalk the poor in the checkout line.

Do we really want people who don’t even believe in SNAP to nitpick what people can buy with it? Because those are often the people attempting to call the shots on what goes in the shopping cart.

I’m not buying what they’re selling. They can check my cart.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project
 Hear Mike Owen and KVFD’s Mike Devine discuss this issue in this April 9 interview.

Basic RGB


When Iowa Wages Fall Short, Do Policy Choices Fill the Gap?

What does it take to get by these days? The Cost of Living in Iowa, 2014 Edition, from the Iowa Policy Project answers this question, and connects the answer to public policy choices that are in the hands of state and federal lawmakers. We present this report in three installments, outlined below, with links to the three pieces and support materials.

Part 1 — Basic Family Budgets

View full report or download 22-page PDF
News release
County data (map, printable tables)
County and regional data (spreadsheet)

Iowans pay differing amounts for the basic living essentials depending on where they live. A family living in Linn County and a family living in Clay County will face different housing costs, commuting times and health insurance premiums; child care costs will differ as well. Part 1 of this report details how much families throughout the state must earn in order to meet their basic needs and underscores the importance of public work support programs for many Iowans, who despite their work efforts, are not able to pay for the most basic living expenses.

Below, see how costs compare for families in your county and neighboring counties; click on any county for the data.

map

Union Shelby Woodbury Ringgold Van Buren Wapello Scott Sioux Sac Tama Webster Warren Washington Wayne Wright Worth Winnebago Winneshiek Muscatine Mahaska Poweshiek Jasper Marion Monroe Lucas Page Montgomery Pottawattamie Mills Monona Marshall Story Humboldt Pocahontas Palo Alto O'Brien Plymouth Mitchell Hamilton Hardin Grundy Guthrie Franklin Madison Keokuk Louisa Iowa Lee Henry Fremont Ida Jones Linn Howard Kossuth Hancock Johnson Jackson Harrison Greene Jefferson Decatur Davis Emmet Floyd Delaware Dubuque Fayette Dallas Dickinson Des Moines Butler Buena Vista Boone Bremer Clayton Chickasaw Cerro Gordo Cass Crawford Calhoun Clay Cherokee Clarke Carroll Buchanan Black Hawk Benton Clinton Cedar Audubon appanoose Adair Adams Osceola Allamakee Lyon Taylor Polk

Part 2 — Many Iowa Families Struggle to Meet Basic Needs

View full report or download 6-page PDF
News release

Part 2 shows that over half the jobs in Iowa pay less than what is needed by many families to achieve basic self-sufficiency. How many Iowa families earn below the family supporting income levels reported here? How many families, in other words, must rely on work supports to get them closer to the basic needs budget level?

Fig 2 graph: basic needs vs. median

Part 3 — Strengthening Pathways to the Middle Class: The Role of Work Supports

View full report or download 21-page PDF
View executive summary or download 3-page PDF
News release or download 2-page PDF

Part 3 examines what are known as the “cliff effects” that occur when a family makes just enough to lose eligibility for various work support programs — creating an “income cliff” that costs far more than they gain from a meager pay increase.

Fig 2 graph: basic needs vs. median

Food insecurity: 1 in 9 Iowa households

Better in Iowa than U.S. average — but worse for Iowans over the decade

140904-IFP-foodinsec-boxIowa households fared better than the national average on food insecurity in 2011-13, but worse than Iowans did a decade earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In its annual report on food insecurity, USDA reported the prevalence of food insecurity in Iowa at 11.9 percent in those years, compared to a national average of 14.6 percent.

In addition, 4.4 percent of Iowans experienced “very low food security” — households that cited several food-insecure characteristics and disruption in eating patterns because of a lack of money or other resources.

The nonpartisan Iowa Fiscal Partnership (IFP) noted that in both cases, Iowans were doing much better on the food security scales in 2001-03 than in the latest period examined.

“While Iowans’ very low food security was lower than the national average of 5.7 percent, it was almost 50 percent higher than it had been only a decade before,” said Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, part of IFP. Owen noted that level had risen from a 3.0 percent average for 2001-03 to 4.4 percent in 2011-13.

Charles Bruner, executive director of the Child & Family Policy Center, also part of IFP, pointed to the overall food insecurity change, from 9.5 percent in 2001-03, to 12.1 percent in 2008-10, to 11.9 percent in the latest period examined.

“Statistically, food insecurity in Iowa has been fairly level for recent years, but these are Iowans — including kids and seniors, not statistics — and the comparison over the decade is disturbing,” Bruner said. “This makes it more important to assure that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is maintained, that eligibility standards are not weakened, and that access is assured to all who need the help.”

For both food insecurity and very low food security, USDA reported the small Iowa improvements from 2008-10 to 2011-13 to be statistically insignificant. According to the USDA, taking into account margins of error for the state and U.S. estimates, eight states had statistically significant higher levels of food insecurity than the national average of 14.6 percent in 2011-13.

Iowa was among 14 states with a statistically significant lower level of food insecurity than the national average. In addition, the Iowa level of very low food security was statistically lower than the national average, as was the case in 12 other states.

 The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint public policy analysis initiative of two Iowa-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations — the Iowa Policy Project (IPP) in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center (CFPC) in Des Moines. For IFP reports, go to http://www.iowafiscal.org. For information about how to make tax-deductible contributions to IPP or CFPC, visit their websites: http://www.iowapolicyproject.org and http://www.cfpciowa.org, respectively.

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* Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Christian Gregory and Anita Singh, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2013,” U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 

A new look for the first of the month

Posted November 1st, 2013 to Blog

All right! The first of the month! Always a big day for those living paycheck to paycheck. And November 1 is no exception.

Yet, for those working low-wage jobs and receiving SNAP benefits, November 1 is not as good as October 1. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which many know as Food Stamps. And it’s under constant attack.In Iowa, the more than 420,000 people who count on food assistance can count on less this month than they received a month ago.

Same goes for SNAP recipients across the country, as benefits drop with the expiration of small improvements that were passed in the 2009 Recovery Act.

SNAP benefits in Iowa have averaged about $116 a month per recipient — about $246 per household.* That works out to just about $1.30 per meal per person. Take a look below at what happens to that supplemental benefit when the modest improvement from the Recovery Act goes away today.

 SNAPmonthlyCut-1-31-13

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3899

Our economy has not fully recovered from the Great Recession. And if it’s not enough that this Recovery Act improvement is expiring before the work is done, recognize that some in Congress see right now as a time to whack away further at SNAP benefits as a new Farm Bill is negotiated.

Now, we might not like to hear that some 13 percent of the state’s population is receiving food assistance. But you don’t address that issue by just cutting benefits to those people who are stuck in low-wage jobs, or are children, or are seniors, or are disabled.You need to make the jobs better, which starts with an increase in the minimum wage and pressure on Iowa businesses that pay low wages to do better. If we want a higher-road economy, we need to put a better foundation under it.

Mike OwenPosted by Mike Owen, Executive Director

* Iowa Department of Human Services, Food Assistance Program State Summary for September 2013, Report Series F-1.


Why, again, would it make sense to cut SNAP?

Posted September 17th, 2013 to Blog
Mike Owen

Mike Owen

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will be considering severe cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Already, SNAP benefits are scheduled to be cut in November because Recovery Act improvements will expire. Any discussion among Iowans about even more SNAP cuts should not miss this context:

Food security remains a serious challenge. In Iowa, the latest report from USDA suggests this has risen by almost one-third in the last decade, from 9.1 percent in 2000-02 to 12.6 percent in 2010-12. (three-year averages) The increase is even greater proportionally for families in more severe situations. See this information from the Iowa Fiscal Partnership.

SNAP use certainly has risen in the last several years — just as it was supposed to in tough times. We have not fully recovered from the Great Recession, but things are getting better and SNAP use will level off and decline as we recover. CBO predicts SNAP spending nationally to fall to 1995 levels by 2019. See this report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

SNAP is only a supplemental benefit, but a critical one even at only about $1.25 per meal per person in Iowa. We show the share of Iowans who benefit from SNAP, by county and by congressional district, in maps on our Facebook page  (compiled from Iowa Department of Human Services reports and U.S. Census data). By the numbers, here is the share of the population in each Iowa congressional district receiving food assistance in July:

1st District — 12.3 percent; about 94,000 people.
2nd District — 15.8 percent; about 121,000 people.
3rd District — 14.7 percent, about 115,000 people.
4th District — 12 percent, about 91,000 people.
Here’s the county-by-county look (note, the golder and greener a county, the greater percentage of the population receives food assistance):
CI-MapTemplate

The House bill would end categorical eligibility, which permits states to provide access to SNAP benefits for families just above the SNAP earnings limit of 130 percent of poverty. Iowa in 2008 used this option to expand gross income eligibility to 160 percent of poverty. An Iowa Fiscal Partnership policy brief last November noted this is particularly important for low-income working families with children, particularly when child care takes such a big bite out of their budgets.

SNAP is a work support. Contrary to the claims of detractors, SNAP is one of those benefits that enable people to take jobs they otherwise would not be able to accept. When we have an economy that is producing jobs that pay below what is needed to get by, these work support programs are critical. We have illustrated the issues there with our Cost of Living in Iowa research, where we have demonstrated that even at median wage, many Iowa families would not get by were it not for work support programs.
Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director

IFP News: Food Insecurity Trends Rising in Iowa

Posted September 4th, 2013 to Economic Security, Food Assistance, IFP in the News

As Farm Bill Idles, Food Needs Challenge 13 Percent of Iowa Households

PDF of this release (2 pages)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (Sept. 4, 2013) — While Congress fails to resolve a stalemate on food assistance and the Farm Bill, long-term trends show hunger rising in Iowa.

food insecurity definitionAn annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on family food insecurity found a larger share of Iowa households had trouble putting food on the table, on average, in 2010-12 than a decade earlier.

Iowa was one of 39 states where the share of households with food insecurity rose from 2000-02 to the most recent three-year period, 2010-12. In Iowa, the share rose from 9.1 percent to 12.6 percent.

Furthermore, Iowa households in more severe conditions — “very low food security” — also increased from 2000-02 to 2010-12, from 2.8 percent to 4.8 percent.

The same report, however, found that Iowa did not show a statistically higher proportion of families having food insecurity issues, on average, in 2010-12 than in 2007-09.

“While the challenge to put adequate food on the table throughout the year remains less a problem in Iowa than the national average, it has become a greater challenge within our state than it used to be,” said Mike Owen, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project, part of the Iowa Fiscal Partnership.

“This is a glimpse of the real-life consequences for Iowa families if SNAP opponents get their way in a new Farm Bill. In short, clearly we are still in recovery from the 2007 recession.

“When the number of Iowans in dire situations already is on the rise despite improvements in SNAP through the years, lawmakers need to be aware of the consequences.”

The report found an estimated 14.5 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2012, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

The national change from 14.9 percent in 2011 is not considered statistically significant, and the prevalence of very low food security was unchanged at 5.7 percent, the report noted. USDA uses one-year Census data for national comparisons to previous years, but for state-level comparisons, the data are presented in three-year averages for greater reliability.

For Iowa and many states, however, the situation was different.

According to the latest report:

—  Food insecurity in Iowa rose from 9.1 percent in 2000-02 to 11.5 percent in 2007-09, and 12.6 percent in 2010-12. The change from 2007-09 to 2010-12 was not considered statistically significant, while the longer-term increase of 3.5 percentage points was considered a statistically significant change.[i]

—  Very low food security in Iowa rose from 2.8 percent in 2000-02 to 5 percent in 2007-09, then dipped to 4.8 percent in 2010-12. The small decline from 2007-09 was not considered statistically significant, while the longer-term increase was considered statistically significant.

—  The 2010-12 Iowa averages are significantly below the U.S. averages (14.7 percent for food insecurity, 5.6 percent for very low food security).

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint public policy analysis and research initiative of two nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations based in Iowa, the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines.


[i] Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Mark Nord and Anita Singh, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2012,” Economic Research Report No. 155, September 2013. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err155.aspx – .UidxtbwpfTw. Also see Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Statement by Stacy Dean, Vice President, Food Assistance Policy, On the New USDA Report on ‘Food Insecurity.’” September 4, 2013. http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4007

lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

 

Why SNAP matters: Wages aren’t always enough

Posted July 11th, 2013 to Blog
Mike Owen

Mike Owen

It’s really quite amazing what kind of arguments people will use to beat up poor people.

Such an example is in the comments section of a story in today’s Des Moines Register about the debate over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, commonly known as Food Stamps.

One writer, in playing to SNAP opponents, is pushing the idea that two full-time jobs at minimum wage lift a family above poverty according to the current administration. In that case, the writer implies, food assistance isn’t needed.

Let’s take a look at the actual numbers and what they mean. It’s not heavy lifting.

Actually the federal poverty guidelines as established have been consistent — and consistently faulty — through several administrations. They are seriously outdated and underestimate what is necessary to make ends meet.

The official poverty level for a family of four in 2013 is $23,550. Does anyone seriously believe a family of four can make it on that kind of income? Rent, food, clothing, utilities — the basics of just getting by — cost more than that in real life.

The Iowa Policy Project has looked at this issue and is constantly updating a more reliable estimate of what it costs to get by — our report, “The Cost of Living in Iowa,” is available on our website with county-by-county numbers that reflect this cost for varying family sizes.

You can quickly see how two minimum-wage jobs don’t get the job done.

A bare-bones family budget for a four-person family in the Des Moines area is — conservatively — $37,886 for one working parent. (Table below). That assumes $3,157 per month for clothing, household expenses, food, health care, rent and utilities, and transportation. If a second parent works you add more transportation costs, plus child care, which becomes the second-largest expense.

Next, figure in taxes — yes, they pay taxes, and a lot as a share of their income — and you get what it takes for a family just to get by. So, this absolutely no-frills budget, with no savings for school or a home or retirement, not even burgers at McDonald’s, rings up at $39,122 before taxes for one working parent, $58,520 for two.

120523-app-04-dm-w

And that means jobs that pay $14.63 an hour for each working parent, or $19.56 if one works.

Yet, at the $7.25 minimum wage, two jobs would pay $30,160. So much for the argument that two minimum-wage jobs per family solve poverty.

This helps to show why the meager Food Stamp benefit of about $1.25 per person per meal is such an important support for Iowa’s low-income working families. But while we’re at it, we could start talking about a higher minimum wage. Another day, perhaps.

Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director


A full table

Posted November 21st, 2012 to Blog
Mike Owen

Mike Owen

As the serving table groans and the plate runneth over for many Americans on Thanksgiving Day, the bounty of food they enjoy will not be so plentiful for all.

Many Iowans will face a challenge — as they often have — just to be able to provide enough for their family. They will be thankful that our nation does set aside enough to help them get by. It’s nothing extravagant, but it matters in keeping their children and themselves fed when times are tough. It comes in the form of what we have long known as “Food Stamps,” one of the most successful programs ever initiated by the federal government.

Against this backdrop, Congress holds the fate of the Farm Bill, legislation passed every five years. Three-fourths of the package is related to nutrition support, including Food Stamps — now SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The outcome, as outlined by Michael Bruner in a recent brief for the Iowa Fiscal Partnership, Children and the Farm Bill, shows that decisions in the lame-duck session will have important implications for how well SNAP continues to meet the needs of struggling Americans.

Gridlock in Washington over the past year has left this issue hanging. As IPP’s Andrew Cannon noted a year ago in his report on public and private nutrition programs, A Secure Nutrition Network, “Even a robust private network of food banks and food pantries cannot fully cover the needs of food insecure Americans if federal nutrition programs lapse.”

As we celebrate the holidays and prepare for the year ahead, we should note that over 197,000 households in Iowa, representing over 419,000 people, received food assistance benefits in October totaling about $51 million. Is $51 million a lot of money? Yes — and it’s going into local economies across the state, while providing important help to families.

But there’s no one living extravagantly off that assistance. It works out to about $121 a month per person — about $3.89 per day, or $1.30 per meal. It is, as advertised, a “supplemental” benefit for, in many cases, working families.

The table is full of important issues, none more important than assuring that all Americans, particularly children, have enough to eat.

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director

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Other resources on this issue:

Check out the “Policy Basics” brief from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2226 and the latest food security report from USDA: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err141.aspx


Nonsense from the Far Right

Posted August 24th, 2012 to Blog

Political consultant Dick Morris slipped into Iowa last week, and the Spin-O-Meter was in overdrive.

Now, rather than repeat Mr. Morris’ misinformation, here is a link to a Des Moines Register story about his appearance at a rally orchestrated by the national right-wing organization Americans for Prosperity.

What Iowans need to know is that (1) Morris is wrong about what is driving the federal budget deficits, and (2) the causes are clear: You can’t cut taxes and fight two wars at the same time without digging a big budget hole.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities graph

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

As shown in the graph at right from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the economic downturn, President Bush’s tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain the vast majority of the deficit through 2019. One thing folks must recognize is that deficits caused by those factors cause more debt down the road, because we have to keep paying interest. Even after the Iraq war ended, we have to keep paying for it.

As we deal with these self-inflicted budget problems, we must maintain the fundamental and long-accepted responsibilities of our nation — to care for the most vulnerable and put them on their feet to get work and succeed in our economy.

Dick Morris has a big megaphone to try to instill something other than a factual presentation about what’s causing our deficits and debt. Fortunately, the discerning Iowan can find the facts by looking for them, and not buying into the conventional spin he delivers in his traveling medicine show.

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director