Proposed Rule - Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the SNAP
Section 5(a) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, as amended, provides that households in which each member receives benefits under a state program funded under part A of Title IV of the Social Security Act (SSA) (also known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants) shall be categorically eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Currently, SNAP regulations broadly interpret “benefits” to mean cash assistance and non-cash or in-kind benefits or services from any TANF –funded program.
In operation, this has allowed categorical eligibility for SNAP to be conferred on households based on receipt of minimal benefits issued by TANF-funded programs which may not conduct a robust eligibility determination and do not meaningfully move families toward self-sufficiency. The Food and Nutrition Act has clear parameters regarding the income and resource limits that SNAP households must meet, and categorical eligibility is intended to apply only when the conferring program has properly determined eligibility. Extending categorical eligibility to participants who have not been screened for eligibility compromises program integrity and reduces public confidence that benefits are being provided to eligible households.
Therefore, the Department proposes updating the regulations to refine categorical eligibility requirements based on receipt of TANF benefits. Specifically, the Department proposes: (1) to define “benefits” for categorical eligibility to mean ongoing and substantial benefits; and (2) to limit the types of non-cash TANF benefits conferring categorical eligibility to those that focus on subsidized employment, work supports and childcare. The proposed rule would also require state agencies to inform FNS of all non-cash TANF benefits that confer categorical eligibility.
The proposed revisions would create a clearer and more consistent nationwide policy that ensures categorical eligibility is extended only to households that have sufficiently demonstrated eligibility by qualifying for ongoing and substantial benefits from TANF-funded programs designed to assist households and move them towards self-sufficiency. In addition, the revisions would help ensure that receipt of nominal, one-time benefits or services do not confer categorical eligibility and would address program integrity issues that have surfaced since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 changed the programs whose benefits confer categorical eligibility. The Department believes these revisions will maintain categorical eligibility’s dual purpose of streamlining program administration while ensuring that SNAP benefits are targeted to the appropriate households.