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The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented demand for access to federal nutrition assistance programs. Federal and state government responded swiftly with program flexibilities and increases, but a focused and coordinated long-term response is needed to ensure all eligible New Yorkers can receive the food assistance they need.

This public policy platform makes recommendations for protections and improvements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), as well as Pandemic-EBT.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The nation’s largest federally-funded nutrition assistance entitlement program must be protected, strengthened and streamlined to maximize its impact on hunger. New efficiencies and the provision of adequate resources will enable the program to meet the needs of struggling individuals and families and preserve SNAP’s ability to respond in times of economic downturn or disaster. We will work to protect SNAP by monitoring and responding to SNAP-related federal rule-making. Legislative and USDA administrative action can and should be taken to:

Maintain the core principles and integrity of SNAP:

  • Keep intact the federal commitment to pay 100% of SNAP benefits.
  • Keep intact the current system whereby all SNAP benefits are provided to recipients on an EBT card to be spent at local SNAP retailers.
  • Retain current system whereby SNAP benefits are determined and issued by SNAP civil service employees.
  • Do not expand SNAP’s work requirements to new populations, impose stricter requirements or impose more harsh penalties.
  • Ensure that fees are not imposed on retailers who accept SNAP.

Expand the number of people who are eligible to participate in SNAP:

  • Maintain state flexibility to utilize “expanded categorical eligibility” to waive the asset test and set gross income tests.
  • Prevent further restrictions to ABAWD time limit rule (i.e. prevent adding new populations, tightening requirements, or limiting state flexibility to issue waivers).
  • Retain the long-standing definition of Public Charge as it relates to SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs.
  • Clarify the legal definition of the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing so it will not be counted as income when determining eligibility for SNAP.

Ensure SNAP accessibility and flexibility throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, track progress of policies; and assess if they should be made permanent:

  • Increase the maximum SNAP benefit for all recipients by boosting the thrifty food plan by at least 15 percent for the duration of the economic downturn.
  • Increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 to help individuals impacted by COVID-19, particularly seniors, for the duration of the economic downturn.
  • Ensure that all SNAP recipients receive Emergency Allotments of SNAP, including households that already receive the maximum benefit; and provide retroactive benefits back to March 2020.
  • Suspend SNAP time limits and administrative rules changes that would cut SNAP benefits.
  • Ensure that enhanced unemployment insurance is not countable income for SNAP.

Maintain and increase the adequacy of benefits provided through SNAP:

  • Improve the adequacy of monthly SNAP allotments by using USDA’s Low-Cost Food Plan in place of the Thrifty Food Plan when calculating SNAP benefit amounts.
  • Maintain minimum benefit allotments.
  • Prevent the imposition of a cap on benefit allotments for larger households.
  • Maintain state flexibility to provide a nominal LIHEAP benefit to the neediest low-income households, in order to maximize benefit allotments.
  • Maintain state flexibility to determine and set annual Standard Utility Allowances.
  • Allow all SNAP households to deduct their actual shelter costs as part of SNAP budgeting.
  • Implement a Standard Medical Deduction.
  • Maintain food choice for SNAP recipients, and prioritize incentives to purchase more produce.

Child Nutrition Programs

The core principles and integrity of child nutrition entitlement programs, specifically the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), should be maintained, and any effort to limit program effectiveness and resources through block-granting should be rejected. The core principles and integrity of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) should also be maintained. Through federal administrative and legislative changes, action can and should be taken to:

Child Nutrition Reauthorization:

Reauthorize Child Nutrition Programs with timely and comprehensive legislation that ensures access to meal programs for all eligible children. The authorization for these federally-funded child nutrition programs expired in September 2015 and is currently being maintained through a Continuing Resolution through 9/30/21.

School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP):

  • Expand free universal school meals to all children nationwide as a mechanism to safeguard children from the impacts of food insecurity. This would be accomplished by enabling school food authorities to provide both school breakfast and lunch at no charge to all children, and provide federal reimbursement at the free rate. These initial policies make progress toward this goal:
    • Establish statewide free universal school meals demonstration projects, such as USDA approval of statewide CEP waiver requests for states with high uptake rates of CEP.
    • Protect and strengthen the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) by increasing the reimbursement)- currently 1.6 – to 2.0 percent, making CEP more financially viable for more high-poverty schools.
  • Maintain and improve the integrity of school meals:
    • Protect and maintain the school nutrition standards in SBP and NSLP.
    • Increase SBP and NSLP reimbursements rates to match the recommended rates of the USDA School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study (April 2019) to be in line with USDA’s estimated cost of producing meals and then be adjusted annually for inflation.
    • Allow school districts to retroactively claim and receive reimbursements back to the first day of the school year for school meals that were served to low-income students who became certified for free or reduced-price school meals later in the school year. This would help the school district overcome unpaid school meals fees accrued by families who are determined eligible for free or reduced-price school meals during the school year.
    • Similar to New York’s policy, protect all children from any type of shaming due to unpaid school meal debt by banning any kind of identification of students who cannot pay for lunch at school, like wristbands or hand stamps, and do not allow schools to publish lists of students who owe money for school meals or use debt collectors to recoup meal fees.
  • Streamline eligibility and the verification process to improve program access:
    • Ensure that any changes to the process of verifying eligibility do not cause eligible children to lose school meal benefits and limit any increase in administrative work for schools that could negatively impact children’s access to school meals.
    • Protect eligible children’s access to school meals by leveraging additional opportunities to directly certify low-income children for free school meals in the following ways:
      • Require states to incorporate all currently categorically eligible children into current data matching systems.
      • Extend categorical eligibility to all of the following:
        • Children placed into kinship care as a result of the opioid drug crisis
        • Children in households that participate in the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
        • Children in military households that receive the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance.
  • As part of the COVID-19 response:
    • Extend all other current waivers to be in place until at least 60 days after the end of the nationally-declared public health emergency under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 247d).
    • Ensure the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, which allows families to receive benefits if schools close due to COVID-19, provides sufficient and timely resources to all eligible children.

Child and Adult Care Food Program

  • Streamline eligibility and administration to improve program access:
    • Eliminate the area eligibility test for the At-Risk Afterschool Snack/Supper component to ensure universal access to afterschool nutrition in all communities.
      • An initial step toward this goal is to expand area eligibility by reducing the threshold from 50% to 40% of children qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals, in alignment with the Department of Education’s Title 1 and 21st Century Community Learning Center programs.
    • Expand Tier 1 area eligibility for family, group family, and legally exempt child care providers by reducing the threshold from 50% to 40% of children qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals.
    • Extend area eligibility to child care centers in CACFP.
    • Allow annual eligibility for proprietary centers.
    • Establish a Community Eligibility Provision and a “Provision 2” option that would align CACFP with NSLP, streamlining paperwork for parents, programs and sponsors, and enabling use of efficient technology.
    • Reauthorize a paperwork reduction workgroup.
  • Maximize program effectiveness:
    • Restore CACFP child care centers’ and family, group family, and legally exempt providers’ option to serve a third meal to children in their care for 8 hours or more.
    • Increase CACFP reimbursement rates to align with updated meal patterns that strengthen the nutritional quality of meals and snacks.
    • Use the Consumer Price Index for Food Away From Home as the cost of living adjustment for CACFP reimbursement rates for legally exempt, family, and group family child care providers, in alignment with what is used for child care centers.
  • Ensure children’s access and protect viability of CACFP throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis and resulting economic downturn:
    • Waive the afterschool activity requirement for CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Snack/Supper through the entire 2020-2021 school year.
    • Waive area eligibility for CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Snack/Supper through the entire 2020-2021 school year.
    • Allow sponsors to provide meals through CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Snack/Supper during the 2021 summer break from school, with waivers for non-congregate feeding, parent/guardian meal pick-up, meal pattern flexibility, meal service time flexibility, area eligibility, the afterschool activity requirement, and other needed flexibilities.
    • Extend all other current waivers to be in place until at least 60 days after the end of the nationally-declared public health emergency under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 247d).

Summer Food Service Program:

  • Streamline eligibility and administration to improve program access:
    • Eliminate the area eligibility test to ensure access to summer meals in all communities.
    • An initial step toward this goal is to expand SFSP area eligibility by reducing the threshold from 50% to 40% of children qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals, in alignment with the Department of Education’s Title 1 and 21st Century Community Learning Center programs.
    • Allow sponsors to serve meals and snacks after school and during weekends and breaks throughout the regular school year through SFSP.
  • Maximize program effectiveness by:
    • Providing funding for start-up grants for mobile meals and other innovative strategies for rural and other hard-to-reach communities.
    • Increasing flexibility and supporting options to provide nutrition to children with limited access to congregate feeding models outside of school.
    • Giving funding priority for federal grants to programs that sponsor/operate all eligible child nutrition programs.
    • Allowing all SFSP sites the option of serving a third meal.
  • Establish a national Summer EBT program.
  • As part of the COVID-19 response:
    • Extend all current waivers to be in place until at least 60 days after the end of the nationally-declared public health emergency under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 247d).

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

  • Extend eligibility for children until their sixth birthday
  • Extend eligibility for postpartum women to two years.
  • Extend certification periods for all participants to two years
  • Ensure access to WIC for all eligible families
    • Develop state-by-state estimates of the number of children under 5 and pregnant women receiving SNAP or Medicaid but not WIC.
    • Require states to create and update joint cross-enrollment plans and policies that include cross enrollment goals and timelines routinely refer SNAP and Medicaid recipients to WIC; fund state and local partnerships and technical assistance that help to implement state plans and work toward cross-enrollment goals.
    • Expand WIC’s breastfeeding services through peer counselors and professional support.
    • Improve equity in WIC among race/ethnicity characteristics
    • Enhance tribal services.
  • Increase funding for WIC outreach.
  • Modernize and streamline WIC services for families and providers:
    • Support efforts to use technology for appointment scheduling and applications, ideally integrated into management information systems
    • Leverage telehealth options, including remote nutrition education
  • Require states to accept electronic documents before, during, and after appointments.
  • Expand WIC research in underserved communities.
  • Protect and preserve the scientific integrity of the WIC food package by implementing the recommendations included in the 2017 review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, such as: provide WIC families with options and flexibility to meet their dietary and nutrient needs; opportunities for increased consumption and choice in whole grains, fruits and vegetables; decrease certain foods that were found to be offered in too large a quantity or were burdensome to WIC families; and encourage continued and improved support for breastfeeding moms.
  • Support WIC’s electronic benefit service delivery.
  • As part of the COVID-19 response:
    • Extend current waivers to be in place until at least 60 days after the end of the nationally-declared public health emergency under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 247d).
    • Ensure enhanced federal unemployment insurance is not countable for WIC.
    • Increase the value of WIC’s Cash Value Benefit for fruit and vegetable purchases, permitting state WIC agencies to increase the benefit up to $35/month until at least 60 days after the end of the nationally-declared public health emergency
    • Accelerate ability to use WIC EBT for online and ordering and payment as well as for curbside pick-up and self-checkout.

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