Food Stamp Rule Change Benefits Coloradans

More Coloradans who are facing difficult life circumstances and financial challenges will be able to keep their food stamp benefits under a recent set of rule changes unanimously approved by Colorado’s State Board of Human Services. Hunger Free Colorado and Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) have been coordinating with the state to adopt these new changes for more than a year.

Food stamps, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, exist to ensure people of all ages and backgrounds can purchase groceries and get the fuel they need thrive. They serve as an economic bridge, with most Colorado families and individuals utilizing food stamps for 12 months or less, according to the USDA. As part of the food stamp program, certain populations in Colorado are subject to either work requirements, or mandatory participation in the Colorado Employment and Training program (known as Colorado Employment First). Those without jobs and who do not participate in this program are either limited to 3 months of food stamp benefits, or sanctioned from the program on a monthly (or more) basis. Often, these stringent requirements unnecessarily prevent Coloradans with difficult life circumstances from getting the food they need.

Recent federal guidance has encouraged states to exempt a broader set of participants from work requirements who may not be physically or mentally able to work or participate in employment training, such as those who are experiencing homelessness. On August 4, Colorado’s State Board of Human Services voted unanimously to adopt these rule changes to help more Coloradans maintain the benefits that help them build a strong foundation to weather life’s storms.

The major provisions in the final rule package were:

  1. People who are experiencing chronic homelessness are no longer subject to work requirements or employment training since their situation can directly impact their mental or physical ability to pursue and maintain employment. People enduring homelessness often lack transportation, contend with physical or mental illnesses, and by definition, suffer from a lack of stable housing. For many of these Coloradans, a disruption in food assistance benefits can intensify hardship.
  2. Individuals who are not fit to work can get an exemption from medical professionals such as physicians’ assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners, designated representatives of a physician’s office and licensed social workers. Previously, only physicians were allowed to grant such exemptions based on a patient’s ability to work. Expanding the types of providers who can verify someone’s unfitness to work will help many SNAP clients overcome an unnecessary procedural barrier to receiving food assistance benefits. Some people struggle to get appointments with physicians, and for many participants, a social worker serves as their main medical provider and is in the best position to verify someone’s fitness to work.
  3. People who reside with juveniles will not be subject to the three-month time limits on receiving SNAP benefits. This change aligns state policy with federal requirements, and more importantly, recognizes the role that household members have in supporting child development.
  4. Counties may now elect to operate a fully voluntary Employment First program for participants who are not considered “able-bodied adults without dependents.” This will save money and improve program integrity by focusing services on only the most work-ready cadre of participants.

The new rules go into effect October 1, 2017, and will save taxpayer money, and help tens of thousands of Coloradans facing difficult times to maintain their food stamp benefits and receive the needed support to reach their human potential.

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