Sorry, New Hampshire. No dice.
That’s the message state officials just got back from federal officials after their recent complaint that New Hampshire is being punished for its economic success when it comes to competing for federal food stamp bonus money.
Terry Smith, director of the Division of Family Assistance, sent a May 28 letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.
Smith expressed concern that a change in eligibility rules puts the state “at a statistical disadvantage when competing for federal bonus money.”
The change pertains to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs), who ordinarily are only eligible for three months of food stamps within a three-year period; after that, the benefits cease unless an individual is working an average of 20 hours a week.
But after the recession hit and SNAP caseloads began to rise, the USDA gave states waivers on those restrictions. These individuals were now eligible for continued benefits, since jobs were presumed to be scarce.
However, by the end of 2012, the USDA determined that New Hampshire’s economy had improved enough to reinstate those restrictions.
The problem is that 35 other states, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are still operating under ABAWD waivers. And that becomes important when the federal government hands out performance bonuses later this year to states with the best SNAP participation rates.
That’s why Smith wrote to the USDA, asking them to take into consideration New Hampshire’s stricter rules when they calculate those rates.
However, Kurt Messner, FNS acting regional administrator, recently sent a letter to Smith, stating that the agency is limited by law in what factors to consider.
“However, FNS will consider using a footnote in next year’s guidance to explain that some ineligibility factors, such as ABAWD time limits, may lower some states’ average number of SNAP participants during the year,” Messner wrote.
Smith said there’s $12 million at stake, to be divided among eight states based on the ratio of SNAP participants to a state’s population with incomes below 125 percent of poverty. And while New Hampshire has gotten such bonus awards in past years, it is unlikely to get any of that money now.
The state’s SNAP case load peaked in January 2013, when 58,229 households received benefits. The following month — the same month the stricter ABAWD rules kicked back in — the caseload dropped by 1,933.
In 2013 alone, Smith said, 3,051 cases closed as a result of the rules change; he estimates another 1,357 SNAP cases have closed so far this year. That amounts to about a 7.5 percent drop in the case load directly tied to the change in eligibility rules.
And with most other states still including ABAWDs in their participation rates, that puts New Hampshire out of the running for that bonus money, Smith said. “It doesn’t give us a chance to compete,” he said.
The only consolation prize is that the disparity will be noted in a footnote, he said.
“The bottom line is that the state just wants to go on record with our federal partners about the equity of the data calculation,” he said.