The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP and food stamps, is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program. The program is designed to be anti-cyclical—providing more benefits during economic downturns. About 46.5 million Americans received monthly SNAP benefits in the 2014 fiscal year, dramatically up from 28 million in 2008. In 2013, some states began to see SNAP numbers decline and by 2014, all but eight states posted declines in enrollment from the year before. National SNAP enrollment in 2014 was down by 2.3 percent from 2013.

The poverty guidelines for 2015 are available and published here in the Federal Register. These guidelines -- often cited as 100 percent of the federal poverty line -- are used to determine eligibility for a number of stata and federal programs. Sometimes eligibility is greater than 100 percent; for instance, the Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of federal poverty. 

Within the next year, Michigan will pilot a program in three counties that will require drug tests for welfare applicants who are suspected of drug use under HB 4118 and SB 275 signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on Dec. 26, 2014.  

The Michigan law comes on the heels of a federal circuit court ruling declaring unconstitutional a Florida law to drug test applicants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the federal welfare program known as TANF.

Even as the recession abates, working family incomes often cannot cover family expenses and families are reaching out to food banks and community support systems to meet basic needs. These support systems also have struggled under economically stressful times and new creative approaches are needed.

Researchers at the Center for American Progress estimate that hunger costs the U.S. at least $167.5 billion every year based on a combination of lost economic productivity, increased education expenses, avoidable health care costs, and the cost of charity. 

Food insecurity – the lack of consistent access to adequate food – affects millions of children and adults every year in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Almost 15 percent of all households in 2013 were food insecure, or 49.1 million Americans. On average, from 2003-2011, around one in ten households that include children were food insecure, ranging from a low of 5.1 percent in New Hampshire to a high of 12.8 percent in Texas.

Hunger affects millions of children every year in the U.S. and is linked to greater rates of absenteeism and school disciplinary problems. Those behaviors are, in turn, associated with lower academic achievement and greatly increase the chance a child will drop out of school – which comes with a huge price tag for tax payers. 

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—Nearly 200 state leaders, guests and Alaska legislative staff helped pack 32,000 meals for the Alaska Food Bank during The Council of State Governments’ service project Aug. 13. The project—which began in 2010-11 during Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris’ year as chair of CSG’s Southern Legislative Conference—grew this year to be part of Norris’ initiative as CSG national chair, “State Pathways to Prosperity.” The service project occurred on the final day of the joint CSG National and CSG West Annual Conference.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released a 73 page booklet last week detailing preliminary proposals for reducing poverty rates. If Chairman Ryan – who calls the proposals a “discussion draft” – is earnest about his intent to spark conversation he has so far been successful, drawing some predictably positive and negative reviews as well as – most interestingly – pragmatic responses to the policy nuances of his plan. Receiving the most fanfare is Ryan’s plan to delegate safety net planning to the states by combining 11 programs – including SNAP and TANF – into the Opportunity Grant and allowing states to use the money to best serve their constituents.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—When CSG’s 2014 chairman Mark Norris talks about the State Pathways to Prosperity initiative, he says “it’s something like awakening the sleeping giant.” Norris, the Tennessee Senate majority leader, spoke at The Council of State Governments 2014 Leadership Council meeting in June.

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