Food Programs Expand Eligibility — Some May Need to Reapply
LAMPa applauds recent actions taken by the Wolf Administration to expand eligibility for hunger-fighting programs in Pennsylvania and advises feeding ministries and advocates to encourage people who may once have been ineligible to re-apply for programs now.
In late September, Gov. Tom Wolf marked Hunger Action Month by announcing updates to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, that will expand eligibility for Pennsylvanians in need of food assistance. Effective October 1, Pennsylvania will increase the income threshold for all applicants to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines (FPIG). With this change, more than 420,000 additional Pennsylvanians in more than 174,000 households will be newly eligible for SNAP and will receive, on average, $63 a month.
“While our food banks strive to provide nutritious food for all Pennsylvanians facing hunger, our work is only a fraction of what the federal nutrition programs can accomplish. For every meal our food banks provide, SNAP provides nine,” said Jane Clements, CEO of Feeding Pennsylvania. “We are grateful to the Wolf Administration for recognizing the need to expand access to SNAP for families who were just outside of the eligibility threshold, yet still in desperate need of support to make ends meet.”
LAMPa advocates had urged the General Assembly and administration to step up supports for individuals and families struggling to put food on the table while juggling rising prices fueled by supply chain failures, drought, and the war in Ukraine.
“No one should go to bed hungry, and these updates to SNAP will help in the fight to eliminate hunger. More families will gain access to the fresh, nutritious foods they need,” said Caryn Long Earl, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Director of the Bureau of Food Assistance. “In addition to SNAP benefits, Pennsylvanians experiencing food insecurity can access programs including the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System Program, Senior Food Box Program, and more. If you are hungry, there are programs to help.”
Beginning on October 1, 2022, DHS will expand Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) for SNAP. While SNAP is a federal program and SNAP benefits are funded through the federal budget, states administer eligibility and issuance of benefits. BBCE is a policy that gives states, including Pennsylvania, the flexibility to determine appropriate income thresholds and extend SNAP benefits to low-income families and individuals who would otherwise struggle to afford food. DHS currently uses BBCE flexibility to set income thresholds to 160 percent of the FPIG for households that do not have elderly or disabled members.
Applications for SNAP and other public assistance programs can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us. SNAP and Medicaid applications are accepted by phone by calling the Consumer Service Center at 1-866-550-4355. The message for clients is to apply now — especially if they are a household of 1 or 2 people. Because of the minimum benefit for those households, if their income is below 200% FPIG, they’ll certainly qualify for SNAP — which means they’ll get emergency allotments bringing them up to the maximum benefit as long as emergency allotments last. After that, they’ll get at least $23 a month.
The SNAP eligibility expansion several other eligibility changes made this year to help ensure access to healthy food for Pennsylvania families — including school breakfast, the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
“Longtime champions for expanding school breakfast access, Pennsylvania hunger leaders can celebrate the administration’s decision to provide free school breakfast to all children this school year,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. Unspent school nutrition funds from COVID-era closures that reduced school meal demand are being used to pay for the breakfasts at a time when inflation and an end to pandemic-level assistance are straining both charitable and household food budgets. There is no need to apply for this program, but families in need should re-apply for free-and-reduced meals through the National School Lunch Program, as eligibility may be affected by the change in SNAP rules.
The eligibility thresholds for both SFPP and TEFAP were raised to 185 percent of federal poverty income guidelines to help hungry Pennsylvanians whose wages are not keeping pace with inflation.