Legislature votes to raise income limit for food stamps

More Alaskans will be able to access food stamps following lawmakers’ vote to raise the income limit to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The change comes after more than a year of extreme delays in food stamp distribution across the state that left thousands of vulnerable Alaskans without aid for months at a time, driving many into debt and inundating food pantries with food insecure families. State workers caught up on the backlog in March.

Alaska will join 42 other states in using an approach called “broad-based categorical eligibility” to streamline applications for the program. The move eases the income requirements to receive benefits and should reduce the administrative burden that contributed to a backlog in the state’s Division of Public Assistance.

Broad-based categorical eligibility makes households with incomes less than twice of the federal poverty line eligible for the program. Previously, the threshold was 30% more than the poverty line in Alaska. The change is a priority for food advocates because it allows more people to qualify and save up enough money to gradually exit the program.

The bill also removes a component called the asset test, which kept people with more than $4,000 in savings from accessing food aid. That meant anyone with a car or a house would have to liquidate those assets and spend down cash before qualifying, Meehan said.

Anchorage Rep. Genevieve Mina, the bill’s sponsor, has pushed for the legislation since last winter, when the state was in the midst of the backlog. Her proposal, House Bill 196, was rolled into another piece of legislation, House Bill 344, on the last day of the session, May 15. The Senate passed it unanimously, while the House voted 26-14 to agree to the final version of the bill.

“We have the ability to feed thousands and thousands more Alaskans,” Mina said on the House floor on May 15.

Mina saw the inception of the current food stamp backlog as a legislative staffer after the number of jobs handling applications were reduced in 2021. Now, as a lawmaker, she is responsible for a policy change that she says will streamline the process. She said her efforts as a member of the House minority were boosted by support from Anchorage Sen. Cathy Giessel, the Senate majority leader — and because the problem affected every region in the state.

Since 2022, the state government has been scrambling to address the backlog of unprocessed food stamp applications, spending millions of dollars on computer upgrades, new staff and direct aid to food banks.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com.


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