Today, Lisa Davis, senior vice president of the No Kid Hungry campaign, was on Capitol Hill testifying before the House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations about Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE), a federal program that helps kids get the food they need by ensuring their families qualify for SNAP benefits.
Oral Statement for House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy
February 6, 2020
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to join you today to share concerns about the Administration’s proposed rule restricting Broad Based Categorical Eligibility or BBCE.
My name is Lisa Davis and I am the Senior Vice President of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. My organization is focused on ending hunger and poverty, with a specific emphasis on children here in the United States.
I am here today to talk about two things: First, to provide a brief overview of BBCE and why it is so important; and second, how the proposed rule would hurt working poor families, their children and their communities.
First, what it does: BBCE is an effective, practical policy. There are many families with gross incomes modestly above 130% of poverty, but who still have difficulty making ends meet due to high expenses for basic necessities like housing and child care. BBCE allows these families to remain eligible for SNAP and free school meals. It creates efficiency and reduces administrative burdens on state agencies and schools.
But more importantly, it encourages work. It helps low-income families move out of poverty and build financial security. It allows them to accumulate modest assets to weather an unexpected financial crisis. It also helps ensure their children can receive the nutrition they need at home and at school.
One thing BBCE is not is an automatic pathway to SNAP benefits. Families must still apply and qualify for benefits through the regular application process which has rigorous procedures for documenting income and circumstances. Indeed, families can be categorically eligible for SNAP but unable to receive benefits because their net income, after deductions, is too high.
Let me give you an example of who it helps: A single mother with two children who works full-time and earns $12.50 an hour could receive about $161 per month in SNAP. Without BBCE, if her wages increased by only 50 cents an hour, her income would exceed 130% of poverty and her family would lose SNAP, ending up with $75 fewer in net resources. She would actually be worse off for accepting a marginal raise! BBCE prevents that and supports work by letting that family slowly phase off SNAP as mom’s earnings increase.
Access to SNAP is important because, a robust body of research reinforces that SNAP is our nation’s most effective nutrition program, particularly for children. By reducing food insecurity and poverty, and improving a child’s long-term outcomes including health, education and even lifetime earnings, SNAP provides a return on investment that any corporate executive would envy.
And make no mistake, the Administration’s proposal to restrict BBCE would be a harsh step backward in our fight to end child hunger that would harm working poor families with children, seniors and people with disabilities.
If the Administration’s proposed rule becomes law, 3.1 million people, more than 2 million of whom are in families with children, will lose their SNAP benefits entirely and an estimated 982,000 children will lose the automatic certification for free school meals that results from their family’s receipt of SNAP.
Even though many of these children will remain income eligible for free or reduced-price meals, experience tells us that far too many will fall through the cracks. Confusion about eligibility, complex paperwork, human error and stigma all create barriers to enrollment.
And even the lower reduced-price meal cost can be a heavy burden for families that are saving every dime to cover basics like rent, utilities and the gas they need to get to work.
So what happens when children lose access to SNAP and school meals? They face a double whammy of meals lost at home and at school. It exacerbates all of the other problems hungry children face: diminishing their academic performance, their mental and physical health, and their opportunity to achieve their full potential. Food is one of the most important school supplies a child has.
I work with families living with food insecurity. These moms and dads are working hard to better their lives and those of their children. Often, they hold down multiple jobs, cut expenses to the bone and still find it impossible to stretch their paychecks to make ends meet. One emergency expense, like a car repair or a medical bill can set them back for months or even years.
I would like to leave you with one final thought: Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility IS working. It helps low-income families work and build savings, increasing their financial stability and self-sufficiency. It also ensures that their children get the fuel they need to grow, thrive and reach their full potential. These are goals that we can all agree on.