Why the Current Structure of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Should be Maintained

Staff Editor Madeline Curtis reflects on the importance of preserving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. GJPLP has more on the changing nature of SNAP in Sarah Carrier’s recent Note, From Paper to Electronic: Food Stamps, Social Security, and the Changing Functionality of Government Benefits, which can be found on WestLaw and Lexis.

by Madeline Curtis

Per data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 12.7% (15.8 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2015.[1]  Fortunately, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program distributes around $70 billion in benefits to approximately 45 million recipients each year,[2] helping to curb the prevalence of food insecurity and poverty in our country.  In fact, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP lifts millions of households out of poverty, keeping 10.3 million people (including 4.9 million children) out of poverty in 2012.[3]  A White House report on the long-term benefits of SNAP found recent research showing that participation in the program leads to “significant improvements in the health and well-being of low-income families.”  Additionally, children who receive food assistance show improvements in health, education, and economic status.[4]  Further, SNAP has one of the lowest error rates of any public benefit program and a strong record of accuracy in payment.[5]

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States Can Help Protect Immigrant Workers from Exploitation

by Mackenzie Yee

All workers, no matter where they were born, should be able to work under fair and safe conditions. No worker should be subject to exploitation, and there has been legislation at both the federal and state levels protecting workers’ rights, regardless of their immigration status.[1] Still, low-income immigrant workers, and particularly those who are undocumented, are especially at risk of being exploited in the workplace.[2]

Employers are able to exploit immigrant workers by threatening to report their immigration status if they complain about workplace abuses.[3] As a result, a handful of states have adopted laws prohibiting this type of extortion. The most recent such law was passed in May 2016, when Maryland became only the fourth state to pass a bill amending its extortion law to include threatening to report someone’s immigration status as criminal extortion if such threat is used to obtain something of value.[4] This law follows similar ones passed in Virginia and Colorado in 2006, and in California in 2013.[5]

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Public Education: A Social Good and A Stepping Stone

by Gabrielle Rejouis

In light of the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, experts and proponents for public education raise concerns about the future of state-funded education in America.[1] While I attended private school from preschool through 12th grade, my experiences as a first-generation American has influenced my understanding of the importance and need for free public education. Free public education was not an option when my parents grew up in Haiti. They both attended private school. My paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother immigrated to America to work and would send money back to Haiti to pay for the cost of my parents’ tuition and uniforms. Both sets of my grandparents valued education. When my parents immigrated to the United States and joined their parents in New Jersey as teenagers, they completed their high school education at public school before earning their bachelors and master degrees. Public education provided a bridge for my parents to navigate the new culture and new surroundings. It also allowed my parents to establish a strong foundation in America and lift their family out of poverty.

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Protecting Access to Affordable Housing in Texas

by Rob Van Someren Greve

Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers allow beneficiaries to rent a property of their choice from private owners by having federal funds cover most of their rent. They provide access to affordable housing to over two million very low-income households in the United States.[1] Given the steady decline of other federal affordable housing programs, the Voucher program is of vital importance to the goal of “aiding low-income families in obtaining a decent place to live.”[2] For the program to be successful, private landlords must be willing to rent their properties to beneficiaries. Unfortunately, many landlords—especially those whose properties are not located in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poor households—refuse to participate in the program.[3] To combat this unwillingness and help ensure that Voucher recipients are able to find a “decent place to live,” numerous jurisdictions across the country have passed laws that prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants on the basis of their source of income.[4]

Unsurprisingly, landlords who had been unwilling to rent to Voucher holders prior to the adoption of laws prohibiting source-of-income discrimination have generally not simply acquiesced after these laws were passed. Landlords in various jurisdictions have challenged these laws in court, arguing as follows: while participation in the Housing Choice Voucher program is voluntary, prohibiting source-of-income discrimination de facto forces them to participate; therefore, such laws are in conflict with, and thus preempted by, the federal statute.[5] Courts have, for the most part, not been particularly receptive to this line of argument.[6] Again unsurprisingly, landlords seeking to preserve the ability to reject otherwise eligible tenants seeking to pay with vouchers have focused their efforts elsewhere.

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Would a Federal Voucher Program Help or Harm Disadvantaged Students?

by Melissa Kahn

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President Trump’s unconventional selection and the Senate’s subsequent controversial confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education has been the subject of considerable debate, and much uncertainty remains as to how much damage she could do to the nation’s public education system. However, we do know that she is an enthusiastic proponent of school vouchers and charter schools. We also know that President Trump has proposed a federally funded voucher program which would redirect $20 billion from existing federal spending toward a block grant program for states to administer school vouchers.[1] Under these programs, parents of students living below the federal poverty level would be able to use a voucher to send their kids to a private or religiously-affiliated school of their choice. Clearly, voucher programs are targeted at economically disadvantaged students, and public opinion surveys show that minority and low-income parents tend to favor school vouchers more than the general public.[2] The question remains, however, whether such programs would help or harm the very constituency which it is designed to protect.

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