Technically referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program uses a combination of state and federal dollars to provide food assistance to families under a certain income level. In order to ensure that only those who qualify to receive the benefits, current state law requires recipients to report any increase in income of $125 or more. Upon receiving information about income increases, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) reviews the income level to assess continued eligibility.
That would change under Senate Bill 2731. Instead of requiring recipients to report any notable income changes, this bill would require recipients only to report if their gross monthly income is above 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Thus, the accountability essentially switches to an honor system rather than requiring recipients to report any potential change. In other words, recipients would be the ones who would have to calculate whether income increases only if it affected their eligibility and then notify MDHS.
Of course, such an honor system raises obvious concerns that some recipients might not even report their eligibility change at all. But there are more basic concerns to be raised. Even if a well-meaning recipient did their due diligence to determine if an income increase made them ineligible, determining the income cap is no simple matter either.
The Federal Poverty Level used to calculate eligibility changes based on several factors, including gross monthly income, the number of people in the household, net monthly income, as well as whether or not a household member is elderly or disabled. Depending on the circumstances, the gross monthly income limit is $1,396 for some people and $4,347 for others, with additional thresholds in between and above these numbers.
As a practical example, the government may tell a recipient what their income cap is when they first get on food stamps. If someone moves out of the household, the FPL income cap will decrease, and a recipient may not even realize that they have a new income cap to watch for if they increase their income.
The proposed change would lead to the system being ripe for confusion, mismanagement, and waste. Instead, Mississippi should stick with a system that places the responsibility for tracking and calculating eligibility into the hands of MDHS. The current system accomplishes this by income reporting that the department internally reviews.
As an entity that is accountable to elected officials, MDHS should continue to be responsible for ensuring that the food stamp program does not waste taxpayer dollars on ineligible recipients. Placing expectations on the food stamp recipients to voluntarily review any income increases to assess their eligibility is shortsighted at best. This burden should be placed on MDHS as the entity that has been given the trust of these taxpayer funds. Funds must not be wasted on those who are not even eligible for redistributive programs like food stamps. Keeping the current requirement for food stamp recipients to report any $125 income changes is a vital step for true accountability to happen.