Here in the District of Columbia, the Council has just made history by eliminating the time limit it had imposed on all Temporary Assistance for Needy Families participants. No state has done this, DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s Executive Director notes in an emailed budget wrap-up.
And proudly because DCFPI played a major role in developing and then advocating for a policy that will ensure very poor families some cash assistance, activities that may get them jobs so they no longer need it and child care so they can meet those activity requirement
The Council’s unanimous vote for a policy more protective than what the Mayor originally proposed is maybe the biggest high point of this budget season.
Meanwhile, we see proposed nationwide safety net program limits of a whole other sort — some retreads, but others new inventions, though champions of so-called entitlement reform have been laying the groundwork for a long time.
SNAP Benefits Limits
The law that created TANF also set a time limit on eligibility for SNAP, but only for able-bodied adults without dependents They usually can receive benefits for only three months in any given three years unless they’re working or participating in a work preparation program at least half time.
Generally speaking, however, SNAP benefits have no time limit. People with incomes low enough to qualify can receive them until their incomes break the threshold.
The Trump administration, as you may have read, would shift 25% of SNAP costs to states — $116 billion during the first 10 years. States could reduce the value of the benefits they provide, notwithstanding ample evidence that current benefits don’t cover the costs of a healthful diet.
But they would also have to adopt new restrictions. These collectively seem to save the federal government an additional $77 billion or so. They would, among other things, revise the way the Agriculture Department sets benefit levels.
As things stand now, they’re based on household size. The more members, the larger the benefits, though they’re smaller on a per person basis due to assumed economies of scale.
So, for example, a two-member household can receive as much as $357 a month, while the maximum for a four-person household is $63 less than double that.
On the flip side, a household with only one or two members will receive no less than $16 a month. Most beneficiaries in this group are elderly and/or disabled.
The Trump administration would deny them any minimum benefit. More than 1.9 million people, most of them living alone would have to spend more on food — and perhaps more importantly, lose the incentive to remain enrolled and thus readily eligible for more assistance if needed.
Returning to the household benefits scale, we find an unadjusted per person increase for each member beyond the eighth. The administration would cap benefits at the six-member rate. Larger households would have to feed about 170,000 people who’d now be factored into their benefit.
This flies in the face of several trends. One is a significant increase in multigenerational households, i.e., those with at least two adult generations. The younger of them or even both may have children in the home too.
We also have unrelated families living together — in some cases, one allowing another to double up rather than rely on their community’s homeless services, in others, more permanent arrangements based on shared rent and other household costs.
Why any policymaker should seek to discourage them when they’re obviously beneficial and cost-saving in various ways, e.g., as an alternative to nursing home care, as a source of child care so that a parent can afford to work.
The answer, one infers, is to cut SNAP costs by about $180 million a year — food insecurity and out-and-out hunger increases notwithstanding.
Disability Benefits Limits
The Trump administration also seeks to cut both Social Security programs for people with disabilities.
For Social Security Disability Insurance, its budget would have Congress establish an expert panel to identify ways to keep workers with disabilities out of the program initially and/or get them out later.
It would also test its own strategies. This, one could guess, is because the expert panel might not recommend changes as radical as those the budget counts on to save about $58.7 million during the first 10 years.
It’s nevertheless the case, as I’ve said before, that experts have proposed various return-to-work proposals that could work for SSDI beneficiaries, as well.
What’s altogether other is the benefits limit the administration proposes for Supplemental Security Income — modest monthly benefit for elderly, blind and otherwise disabled people with little, if any other cash income.
Families can receive a benefit for each of their children severely disabled enough to qualify. As with adults, the amount reflects a complex income calculation, but benefits for each child are the same.
The Trump administration would retain the full benefit for one eligible family member, but ratchet benefits down for the rest. This effectively reduces the income that supports all family members — and $9 million in federal safety net spending.
It’s not the first effort to cut SSI funding. The House Republican Study Group tried to get the program block granted in 2012. The House Budget Committee decided to instead adopt the same cost-cutting approach we find in Trump’s budget.
Both have justified it by alleged economies of scale, e.g. the fact that housing for three people doesn’t cost a third more than housing for two.
But we’ve reliable research showing that even the maximum benefit didn’t cover the extra costs of raising a severely disabled child. Sixty-two percent of families with just one with SSI benefits suffered at least one material hardship.
To borrow from Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell, the folks who’ve shaped Trumponomics and translated it into specifics seem to think “that it doesn’t suck enough to be poor.”