Nutritional Programs and Assistance
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) supports the state-federal partnership to provide nutrition assistance to those in need. State legislators are concerned about the vast numbers of hungry individuals, and particularly the severity of hunger among childhood and aging populations. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Child Nutrition programs alleviate and prevent hunger and enable families to improve their health and be more productive at school and at work.
SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Food Stamps
NCSL urges continued federal funding of the SNAP program at levels sufficient to provide assistance to all that are eligible or in need due to the rising cost of food. NCSL also urges the administration and Congress to continue to make SNAP and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grants more compatible through the broad-based categorical eligibility option. This is a policy option for states by which households may become categorically eligible for SNAP because they qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or state maintenance of effort-funded benefits. In times of economic hardship, SNAP, along with other nutrition assistance programs, offers a vital safety net for low-income Americans.
NCSL opposes proposals that would impose costly administrative burdens and un-funded mandates on state governments, or remove state flexibility that is critical to cost-effective administration of SNAP.
NCSL supports U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiatives to provide administrative flexibility through the waiver process by allowing states to implement administrative efficiencies such as telephone interviews, utilize Combined Application projects, simplified application forms, the creation of mobile-friendly software for SNAP recipients, and develop partnerships with community stakeholder organizations to improve quality, efficiencies, and overall nutrition access. NCSL supports additional waivers that increase administrative flexibility during a public health emergency.
SNAP Benefits and Program Design
NCSL recommends that the administration and Congress incorporate the following issues regarding SNAP benefits and program access into future legislative and regulatory action:
- Elimination of the annually indexed caps on excess shelter deductions to allow families to deduct high shelter costs;
- Exclusion of the first $150 a month by a non-custodial parent paid as child support from consideration as income in determining the SNAP allotment;
- Elimination of the rules concerning the value of a vehicle that a recipient may own and still receive SNAP benefits;
- Federal support and technical assistance for state outreach;
- Enhancement and simplification of application and eligibility determination procedures through supporting Web-based screening tools, permitting seniors and the disabled to apply at Social Security offices, reduced length application forms, and allowing use of joint applications;
- Continuation of state options regarding child support cooperation as a condition of eligibility for SNAP. NCSL supports the elimination of the fee for SNAP recipients’ child support collection efforts as a further incentive toward child support enforcement participation.
- Continuation of state options to disqualify for SNAP eligible individuals who fail to cooperate with child support enforcement authorities or who are in arrears on child support obligation. NCSL supports this option and opposes changes that would mandate these actions;
- Permit the promotion and acceptance of SNAP at farmers’ markets and other non-grocery store, produce-oriented venues, for example: from a small farmer; and
- Continue to support current state options regarding categorical eligibility and "heat and eat.”
SNAP and Legal Immigrants
NCSL supports SNAP eligibility for legal immigrant children and families. NCSL commends USDA's outreach efforts to assist eligible legal immigrants, including their work to translate materials into more than 34 languages. NCSL continues to support restoring eligibility to the small number of legal immigrants who were not covered under previous restoration. NCSL urges the administration and Congress to include state lawmakers in making decisions that would alter the eligibility status for any category of immigrants legally present in the United States.
SNAP Employment and Training Program (SNAP E&T)
NCSL supports the objectives of self-sufficiency promoted by the SNAP Employment and Training program (SNAP E&T), and will work with the federal government toward that goal. NCSL urges the administration and Congress to allow states flexibility to create, fund, and integrate SNAP E&T programs with similar state programs, particularly TANF and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). NCSL also supports program simplification and coordination between TANF and SNAP.
In addition, NCSL appreciates the USDA's willingness to grant states waivers of the three-month time limit for non-working able-bodied adults without dependents in areas impacted by high unemployment and USDA's technical assistance to states.
SNAP Program Quality Control (QC)/Judicial Waiver
NCSL supports the original intent of quality control, which is to provide states with a management tool to identify problems in public assistance administration and to facilitate corrective actions. However, many problems in the current system have been documented, including statistical flaws and the levying of excessive financial penalties on states. NCSL strongly supports the move away from a system based on error rates to one that awards bonuses for accuracy. NCSL urges the federal government to improve systems related to appeals of waiver decisions and reinvestment of claims, including outcome measures of program goals.
NCSL supports efforts to focus on program measurement and evaluation through positive incentives and urges Congress to reexamine funding levels. State legislators urge the USDA to continue to settle QC claims through state reinvestment in program improvement.
Electronic Benefit Transfer and Automated Systems (EBT)
NCSL supports the current implementation of EBT systems and supports allowing cards to be used for multiple programs.
NCSL believes that states should be allowed to negotiate the terms of EBT with food marketers, farmers’ markets, and financial institutions. NCSL opposes preemption of state laws that govern financial institutions pertaining to a nationwide EBT system. As additional income support programs are added to EBT systems that are state-only or state-federally governed, the federal government must not preempt state benefits law.
NCSL also encourages the administration and Congress to continue initiatives around summer feeding and EBT to secure a permanent summer EBT program, including adding monthly funding to family’s EBT cards and including funding for state startup costs.
SNAP Program Flexibility and Waivers
NCSL believes that the federal waiver process should recognize state participation and need. States need flexibility for further innovation and state legislators prefer to have options rather than waivers for policy changes that are not in need of further evaluation. State legislators need to be included in the waiver process prior to a waiver being granted. Plan approval and the results of demonstration grants should be shared with state legislators.
NCSL supports the authority for states to use, at their option, contractors to support administrative and eligibility functions in SNAP. NCSL asks the federal government to remove barriers to this option so that states can meet surges in demand, address workforce shortages, align SNAP flexibility with other programs, and ensure the right benefits go to the right people at the right time.
Emergency Food Assistance and Commodity Distribution
NCSL urges Congress to fully fund The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) at its authorized level. NCSL believes that Congress should provide adequate administrative funds to facilitate the efficient distribution of food and should include sufficient safeguards to prevent program abuse. NCSL urges the USDA to make additional surplus commodities available to states, upon request, when additional surplus food becomes available. We also urge the USDA to provide administrative funding support for sorting, packaging, processing, and transporting donated food. NCSL supports federal programs that deliver commodities through farmers’ markets and the child nutrition commodity programs.
NCSL urges Congress to reauthorize legislation to continue and fully fund child nutrition programs. NCSL urges the USDA to emphasize the importance of nutritionally-appropriate foods, and avoiding those high in sugar, fat, and sodium.
Accurate eligibility determination is important in any federal program, but efforts to ensure that only eligible children are served must not be a deterrent to program participation. NCSL supports the USDA’s proposal to create a pilot program for school districts to provide more nutritious alternatives that would allow experimentation without risk of financial loss to those schools.
NCSL supports the objectives of the WIC program to educate and inform participants with the best sources of nutrition to reduce the incidence of low birth weight, improve infant nutrition in the first year of life, and to improve the health of participants. NCSL encourages the administration and Congress to ensure flexibility for the time it takes to process and approve applications for WIC applicants and ensure continued financial support to maximize WIC coverage for women, infants, and children in need.
NCSL supports congressional efforts to improve program administration by authorizing limited borrowing between fiscal years for the WIC program, and by requiring the timely apportionment of WIC funds to the states. NCSL supports funding to allow technological improvements to WIC and to allow the implementation of WIC EBT.
School Breakfast and Lunch Programs
NCSL strongly supports the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Programs (SBP) as critically important to the well-being, education, and self-sufficiency of young children. State legislators support the cash subsidies to schools for moderate- and high-income children under the provisions of the school lunch and school breakfast programs. Additionally, NCSL encourages more flexibility for community eligibility provisions (CEP), which help reduce paperwork for parents and schools with a high percentage of eligible students.
The provision of federally-funded start-up grants would enable many schools with large numbers of low-income children to initiate the school breakfast program. NCSL recommends that a study be conducted that would consider alternative financing scenarios that would retain program consistency. NCSL urges the USDA to emphasize nutritionally-appropriate foods.
Summer Food Service Program for Children (SFSPC)
NCSL supports SFSPC and the restoration of meal reimbursement rates that allow low-income children to receive a nutritious lunch in the summer. NCSL supports policies that will make it easier for non-profit community groups and public entities to sponsor the program, and will allow the program to be available in more neighborhoods and rural areas.
Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
NCSL supports flexibility to allow seniors to transport uneaten food they receive while participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Proposals to eliminate or reduce this program ignore its valuable contribution to the expansion of child care and reduction of childhood hunger.
NCSL strongly supports efforts to expand CACFP to older children in after-school programs, and to ensure that the program is available in more neighborhoods and rural areas. Additionally, NCSL supports state options to expand this critical program to suppers in after-school programs.
Combating Childhood and Adult Obesity
NCSL supports federal efforts to find solutions for childhood and adult obesity without imposing mandates. NCSL urges Congress to fully fund these programs and supports a proposal to fund a pilot program for the states with the greatest incidence of childhood and adult obesity to develop policies and procedures to reduce obesity.
Nutritional Quality Measures for Older Adults
NCSL supports the quality measures used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to quantify health care processes, outcomes, patient perceptions, and systems that are associated with the ability to provide quality health care and/or that relate to “quality goals” for health care. CMS introduced four electronic clinical quality measures that would cover screening for malnutrition, assessment of those screened as at-risk for malnutrition, diagnosis of malnutrition, and creation of a nutrition care plan. NCSL urges CMS to adopt quality measures on malnutrition to heighten the importance of identification, evaluation, and treatment of malnutrition in the elderly.
NCSL also supports establishing malnutrition care as a measure of quality health care. NCSL urges the administration and Congress to support state efforts to reduce malnutrition in the elderly and heighten awareness of nutrition in elderly communities.
Nurturing Responsible Families and Child Support Enforcement
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) believes a stable household with adequate financial resources to provide for basic needs of children should be the goal of every parent. The role of government should be to encourage individual parental responsibility in meeting that goal and to assist in providing support for children whose parents are unable to do so.
Child Support Enforcement
NCSL believes that enforcing parental support obligations is an integral part of a comprehensive income security program for our nation's families. The federal child support enforcement program, authorized under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, was established to enforce support obligations owed by non-custodial parents to their children by: (1) establishing paternity; (2) locating non-custodial parents; and (3) obtaining support payments.
NCSL believes states and the federal government should ensure that child support is fair, equitable, and timely. In reviewing the current system, NCSL concludes that child support enforcement can be enhanced through better coordination of purpose at the state and federal level, through a renewed commitment to interstate cooperation, and through the application of intellectual and financial resources to attack the problem with creativity, innovation, flexibility, and strength.
NCSL supports improved coordination of all programs and organizations working on child support enforcement, including but not limited to: state policy makers, state courts, local and state bar associations, district and state attorneys, local and state child support directors, local law enforcement officials, educational institutions, family and child support advocacy groups, tribes, and programs that work with both parents.
NCSL believes that the federal child support audit process would be improved by focusing on performance outcomes rather than administrative procedures and processes. A revision of the process would allow for more innovation and adaptability to individual state needs, while still providing oversight. NCSL also urges the federal government to allow states to reinvest their child support penalties in the child support system as a more effective way for states to come into compliance. Similar penalty reinvestment practices are followed in other human services programs. State investments in technology-related expenditures, which are necessary in order to come into compliance with federal requirements, should be taken into account in the penalty process.
Program and System Improvements
The increasing effectiveness of state child support enforcement programs performs an important service for children. Federal financial participation has created the base for these effective and increasingly successful programs. However, as more families leave welfare and go into the workforce, the program no longer provides the financial return to the state and federal government. The states and federal government need to re-examine the financing of this program.
NCSL urges the federal government to continue to support technical assistance to the states with respect to exemplary practices, procedures, and legislation that has been effectively implemented.
New child support initiatives from the federal government should allow maximum flexibility among states, reward new initiatives and encourage state experimentation and innovation.
NCSL is pleased with the progress the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) has made in focusing on program outcomes and assistance to states to maximize the effectiveness of state child support systems and collections. NCSL encourages OCSE to regularly communicate with state legislators, particularly through the regional offices and relevant action transmittals.
NCSL supports an incentive approach for a permanent enhanced federal administrative match for states that implement a minimum package of innovative procedures to increase program effectiveness.
NCSL realizes states need to make significant improvements in the number and timeliness of paternity establishments, as this is the cornerstone to an effective child support enforcement program. Currently, states are rewarded for improving paternity establishment. Federal funds should accompany federal paternity mandates.
NCSL supports proposals that would put states on a phased-in schedule of improvement that would use current year levels of paternity establishments as the base and would require a reasonable schedule for improvement.
NCSL recommends that if any additional mandatory program requirements are adopted as amendments to the existing Child Support Enforcement program, Congress should provide for: (1) a reasonable transition period; (2) waivers to permit states to address state specific problems with program requirements; and (3) flexibility for states to implement innovative alternatives that still meet the goals of the program.
NCSL supports the federal parent locator service but opposes a mandate that would charge states for the use of the service.
Payment of Child Support in the TANF Program/Child Support Pass through
NCSL supports the option for states to use a disregard as a minimum financial incentive for recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) to participate in the child support program and believes that states need flexibility to use disregards innovatively. NCSL also supports allowing states to permit families to keep more of the money collected on their behalf whether on or off public assistance. However, NCSL insists that the federal government share in the cost of this forgone revenue. NCSL opposes a federal mandate to pass through child support as a cost-shift to states. Additionally, NCSL supports more efficient outreach efforts to include a greater number of recipients receiving child support enforcement assistance. State innovations in this area are important to children and families, particularly those transitioning from welfare to work and ultimate self-sufficiency. States must have the flexibility necessary to continue these innovations to meet the need of children and families in each state. NCSL also urges the federal government to provide states with MOE credit if states choose to pass-through child support to families.
Historically, states have taken the lead in issues pertaining to family law. State legislators support innovative programs that reach more absent parents, especially young fathers. However, the issues of custody and visitation are under the purview of the states and NCSL would strongly oppose any effort to preempt state laws in this area. If the federal government establishes block grants to states to examine ways to involve noncustodial parents in the lives of their children, state legislatures must have the authority to appropriate these funds.
Poor fathers have a difficult time keeping up with child support payments, and there is evidence that these fathers are unable, not unwilling to pay. These fathers try to provide some informal support directly to the mothers of these children. NCSL believes that supporting efforts to help low-income fathers be better parents and providers will result in increased financial support and stronger connections with their children. Improving the employment prospects for non-custodial parents is essential so parents will provide regular, on-going cash support to their children. This is a critical component for the long-term success of welfare reform as the combination of earnings and child support makes low-income families self-sufficient.
NCSL believes that a new federal fatherhood program should:
- Provide funds to all states on a formula basis;
- Ensure state legislative authority (often referred to as the "Brown amendment");
- Count state contributions to fatherhood toward their state MOE requirements under the 1996 welfare law;
- Provide states flexibility in determining eligibility of program participants;
- Provide state flexibility to create or support programs at the local level;
- Encourages collaboration on the state and local level,
- And provide states the opportunity to use government, non-profit or faith-based providers as the state determines best fits the needs of their communities.
NCSL urges OCSE to encourage flexibility and creativity in addressing arrearages. NCSL also urges that OCSE continue to work with policymakers to clarify the usage of current policy regarding arrearages. While states cannot retroactively modify awards, it is possible for states to forgive arrearages for those noncustodial parents who are working to meet current obligations but are genuinely unable to pay arrearages. These arrearages are often barriers to participation in fatherhood programs and to family reunification and marriage. The federal government should clarify and provide state technical assistance regarding the current options for states to deal with child support arrears owed by an absent parent who later married or remarried the custodial parent, a non-custodial parent living in the household, or parents in fragile families. NCSL urges the federal government to provide assistance to the states on the usage of current policy toward compromising of arrearage.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) supports policies that nurture responsible families. Any policies regarding the role of parents must take into account that not all families are intact and stable. NCSL believes that children deserve two involved parents. To that end, NCSL has an interest in policies that support intact families, encourage marriage and provide opportunities for fragile and fractured families to parent their children together. NCSL recognizes efforts to salvage some relationships may not be appropriate and there needs to be special awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence and abuse. NCSL supports efforts to assist parents with parenting skills, even in the absence of marriage, in order to have as stable a support system for the children involved as possible.
NCSL supports policies that encourage the formation of two parent households. Many single parents are successful in raising children in a single parent household. However, there is growing evidence that children who grow up with two involved parents are less likely to be poor, have contact with the criminal justice system, and become teen parents, and are more likely to graduate from high school. Children need a strong family bond and support system, including the positive influence of fathers even when they do not live in the home.
One of the four goals of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 is to encourage the formation and maintenance of two parent families. Some states are now using federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant funds and state Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funds to create fatherhood programs including education and training, employment assistance, anger management, peer support, parenting classes, relationship building and marriage skills. NCSL continues to support elimination of the separate higher work participation rate for two-parent families in the TANF program.
Child Support Assurance
Child Support Assurance provides a guaranteed level of child support payment. NCSL supports maintaining the option of states to develop pilot programs for the assurance concept that can be rigorously analyzed and evaluated.
Appropriate Federal and State Roles
Federal efforts should first be directed to helping states do a better job. The federal commitment to child support enforcement has been to elevate and strengthen OCSE so that it will be a more effective partner with the states. This should include attempts to improve cooperation between IV-D agencies, state revenue agencies, and the state and local courts. Federal dollars should be used to create incentives to develop innovations, to replicate successes, and to provide improved training. Incentives should be structured in a manner that is supportive of and not coercive to states. State and local courts should retain power and discretion over establishing and modifying child support orders. The federal government should not create criminal sanctions.
Several proposals to improve the child support system begin with a premise that centralizing the system should be the driving force for change. Federalization of the child support system, however, would disrupt state efforts to integrate family support services and further diminish the sense of community that is required for government to be responsive to the needs of its citizens. NCSL rejects the assumption that transferring the program to the federal government and funding, creating, and training a new bureaucracy at the national level will offer immediate improvement. Instead, NCSL supports sorting of responsibilities in a reasonable and rational fashion. Federal responsibilities should be expanded only where compelling reason to do so exists. Any other actions should be considered violations of the 10th amendment.
Federalization raises problems for an uninitiated and overworked federal court system and poses great risk because of the absence of a national system or model. Proposals to use existing mechanisms within the Social Security System and the Internal Revenue Service, while intriguing, must be rigorously tested and evaluated before exposing the entire system to enormous cost and risk. Overlapping responsibilities would create new disorder with federal administrative law judges interfering with settled state authority in family law.
Child Support Incentive Program
NCSL strongly supports the current incentive system for child support enforcement. The current incentive system must reward performance and recognizes our changing caseloads. As states succeed in their welfare reform efforts, the child support caseload is changing from mostly welfare recipients to include more working families. Most states easily reached the maximum incentive for non-welfare cases and the system should be revised and updated.
NCSL strongly supports federal legislation to remove the provision in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 that prohibited states from using child support incentive funds to match federal funds for the program. This action, reversing existing law encouraging states to use funds in this manner, was identified by the Congressional Budget Office as an intergovernmental mandate that exceeded the threshold of the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act. The federal funds states matched with incentive funds were used for integral parts of the child support enforcement program, such as establishing and enforcing child support obligations, obtaining health care coverage for children, and linking low-income fathers to job programs. Reduction of child support funding inevitably leads to lower child support collections, leaving families less able to achieve self-sufficiency. States are put in the unenviable position of reducing services or finding state funds to make up for this federal cost-shift.
Concerns about the incentive system have been a long-standing component of NCSL policy. NCSL continues to believe that the increasing effectiveness of state child support programs provides a financial return to both states and the federal government, while performing an important service for children and families. Federal financial participation has created the base for these effective and increasingly successful programs.
The 1996 welfare reform law required the Department of Health and Human Services to report to Congress with suggested revisions to the current incentive system. In response to the Administration's proposal and pending Congressional action, state legislators:
- Support a base matching rate of no less than 66 percent. This is critical in light of the extensive federal mandates in the welfare law;
- Support enhanced funding for automated data systems required by federal law;
- Support the development of clear, understandable criteria for a new incentive system;
- Believe that these criteria should be based on performance outcomes rather than administrative procedures and processes;
- Oppose efforts to require that incentives received by the state be reinvested in the child support program. This ignores state priorities and preempts state authority over these funds, and
- Support a more flexible approach to reinvestment. NCSL supports state flexibility to reinvest in programs that serve children and families.
Medical Child Support Enforcement
The federal government regulates health insurance covered by self-insured companies under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA); state laws do not apply to these companies. NCSL continues to urge Congress to close a loophole in ERISA that allows self-insured companies to refuse to acknowledge state medical child support orders and effectively block access to medical child support for thousands of children. As ERISA companies refuse to acknowledge transferred orders, states must return to court and get a new order if a noncustodial parent changes jobs. ERISA companies also set highly individualized criteria which, absent a standardized medical support notice, are barriers to the Congressional goal of a uniform and efficient enforcement system. A change in ERISA is needed so that these companies will comply with state medical child support orders and children of the fathers employed by these companies will no longer remain on Medicaid.
To effectively manage welfare costs, states must have access to the necessary tools. Absent a change in ERISA clarifying that there is no preemption of state laws and procedures for medical child support, state medical costs will continue to rise. Particularly given the rigid child support mandates of PRWORA, the federal government should take efforts to remedy these problems in ERISA so that states can effectively manage costs and insure that children of noncustodial parents working for ERISA companies have adequate health insurance. NCSL also urges OCSE to continue to discuss the linkages between medical child support and the use of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
NCSL urges the federal government to continue collaborative efforts and to consider the cost to states of any policy changes. Continuing discussion is especially needed regarding state flexibility to determine the “reasonable cost” of insurance. The current federal definition is very problematic because of changes in insurance coverage available through employers.
The child support enforcement system relies on accurate, working information systems. Unfortunately, implementation of these computer systems has been difficult and fraught with problems and delays. NCSL encourages Congress to convene state elected officials, welfare commissioners, vendors and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to review child support automation services and to develop realistic recommendations for the next phase of implementation. NCSL supports efforts to allow for corrective action plans for states in the disallowance process.