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Opportunities to Improve Food Equity and Access in Massachusetts

June 3, 2022

This is GBFB's second annual Massachusetts statewide survey on food access.From December 2021 to February 2022, using an online survey company, GBFB surveyed more than 3,000 Massachusetts adults.The survey oversampled adults with lower incomes to ensure we heard from people most likely to need food assistance. Statistical weighting methods were used to collect estimates representative of the Massachusetts adult population.The survey was adapted from the National Food Access and COVID Research Team (NFACT) survey and modified to focus on issues related to food insecurity and food assistance use. GBFB modified the NFACT survey with input from statewide community partners including GBFB's Health and Research Advisory Council. 

Overview of Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs

June 1, 2022

The major federal public benefits programs have long excluded some non–U.S. citizens from eligibility for assistance. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), nonemergency Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and its precursor, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), were largely unavailable to undocumented immigrants and people in the United States on temporary visas.However, the 1996 federal welfare and immigration laws introduced an unprecedented era of restrictionism. Prior to the enactment of these laws, lawful permanent residents of the U.S. generally were eligible for assistance in a manner similar to U.S. citizens. Once the laws were implemented, most lawfully residing immigrants were barred from receiving assistance under the major federal benefits programs for five years or longer.Even where eligibility for immigrants was preserved by the 1996 laws or restored by subsequent legislation, many immigrant families hesitate to enroll in critical health care, job-training, nutrition, and cash assistance programs due to fear and confusion caused by the laws' complexity and other intimidating factors. As a result, the participation of immigrants in public benefits programs decreased sharply after passage of the 1996 laws, causing severe hardship for many low-income immigrant families who lacked the support available to other low-income families.Efforts to address the chilling effects and confusion have continued since that time. The Trump administration's exclusionary policies compounded the problem, making it even more difficult to ensure that eligible immigrants and their family members would secure services.This article focuses on eligibility and other rules governing immigrants' access to federal public benefits programs. Many states have attempted to fill some of the gaps in noncitizen coverage resulting from the 1996 laws, either by electing federal options to cover more eligible noncitizens or by spending state funds to cover at least some of the immigrants who are ineligible for federally funded services.In determining an immigrant's eligibility for benefits, it is necessary to understand the federal rules as well as the rules of the state in which an immigrant resides. Updates on federal and state rules are available on NILC's website.

Immigrant and Native Consumption of Means-Tested Welfare and Entitlement Benefits in 2019

March 30, 2022

Total government spending on the welfare state amounted to about $2.5 trillion in 2019. The federal government spent roughly $2.3 trillion in that year, an amount equal to approximately 51 percent of all federal outlays. About $1.7 trillion of federal expenditures went to Social Security and Medicare, and the other roughly $534 billion funded means‐tested welfare benefits. American states spent an additional $244 billion on means‐tested welfare programs in 2019. Based on data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, we find that immigrants consume 28 percent less welfare and entitlement benefits than native‐born Americans on a per capita basis. By comparison, immigrants consumed 21 percent less welfare and entitlement benefits in 2016 on a per capita basis. From 2016 to 2019, the underconsumption of welfare by immigrants relative to native‐born Americans widened by about 7 percentage points.

"Finally, We're Being Recognized": Stories and Perspectives from Applicants to the Excluded Workers Fund

March 17, 2022

Although expanded unemployment insurance played a large role in decreasing the number of people living in poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic, millions—most notably undocumented workers—were excluded from these benefits. The New York State Excluded Workers Fund (EWF) is the most notable example of legislation to address this gap. Passed in April 2021, the EWF approved 130,000 excluded workers to receive financial support that roughly equaled the average total amount unemployed workers eligible for unemployment compensation received, approximately $15,600 per person. To understand the experiences of workers who applied for EWF and of those that did not receive the fund, we conducted 15 interviews with workers in English, Spanish, Bangla, and Korean and 9 interviews with staff from community-based organizations serving various populations in New York and providing crucial application assistance.We found that those who received the fund were able to use it to make ends meet during a period of severe job loss bypaying back rent and other bills;repaying debt incurred during the pandemic;stabilizing or improving their housing conditions;paying for basic needs like food;investing in their children and education;taking care of their health and paying for medical expenses;stabilizing and expanding employment opportunities; andcreating local economic stimulus.We also found that the EWF had a significant impact on excluded worker recognition and their sense of power and dignity that comes from being treated as a valued member of society. We found that workers who applied but did not receive the fund because of difficulties providing the required documentation faced continuing stress around unstable income, debt burden, and other dire circumstances.Overall, New York State Department of Labor quickly and effectively adopted the EWF, but ultimately the fund ran out of money more quickly than anticipated. Although the fund was a high-impact intervention for those who benefitted, it has not provided solutions to the ongoing instability that accompanies a lack of lawful permanent status in the US.

Spotlight On State of Food Hardship in New York City: Lessons learned during the pandemic and where we go from here

November 18, 2021

COVID-19 pandemic, with more than one in three New Yorkers sometimes or often running out of food or worrying that food would run out before they had money to buy more. The pandemic brought new and devastating challenges in quick succession, with half of New Yorkers losing work-related income at the peak of the pandemic, not knowing how they would make rent or keep food on the table, or when things would get back to "normal."In the face of uncertainty, actions were taken at federal, state, and local levels to stabilize income and provide a buffer against new experiences of material hardship. These included the substantial expansion of the unemployment insurance program, stimulus payments, the increase in Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) payments, and eviction moratoria. 2020 also saw community-based organizations across the city quickly adapt to meet needs and deliver services while maintaining public health guidelines. This included the substantial expansion of emergency food assistance programs, with food pantries changing their hours, protocols, and delivery mechanisms. Data from the Poverty Tracker show that these supply-side changes aligned with an increased demand for food – between 2019 and 2020, the number of families in the Poverty Tracker sample receiving food from a food pantry more than doubled. And among foreign-born New Yorkers, who were less likely to benefit from the federal policy expansions, the number of people using food pantries nearly tripled. This sharp increase suggests that the role of pantries in the lives of New Yorkers changed over the course of the pandemic, and many of these changes may continue to play a role in fighting food hardship through the pandemic recovery.

Mecklenburg County: Remaking a Child Welfare System

October 17, 2021

In 2013, child welfare leaders in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, needed new approaches to keeping families together safely and improving the well-being of children and young people. For situations in which foster care was the only option, they wanted placements to be temporary, with fewer disruptions and less trauma for children and families.Four years later, with better data systems for analyzing trends, new ways of working with families and communities and a partnership with a national experts, the county's Youth and Family Services (YFS) is seeing significant, positive results. These include reduced entries into foster care, fewer young people in the system living in group settings, less staff turnover with improved morale, more support for kinship care and increased efforts to end racial disparities.

Spotlight on Direct Cash Benefits during the Pandemic

October 4, 2021

As the country looks to emerge from the pandemic during a destabilized labor market, a debate has arisen over whether direct cash payments discourage people from working. This debate echoes long-standing ideological disputes over the social safety net, including the effectiveness and appropriateness of direct cash benefits, and whether people will spend them wisely. The existing quantitative data demonstrates that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including its direct cash benefit provisions, helped many people avert material hardship, while for those who were ineligible, its absence exacerbated hardship.Previous Poverty Tracker reports have shown that nearly half (49%) of all New York City workers lost employment income at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And those hardest-hit were those already in precarious financial positions, with more than half (57%) of low-wage workers in New York City losing employment income. Across the city, New Yorkers were forced to figure out how to pay rent and keep food on the table with no sense of what was to come next. To make ends meet, 52% of New Yorkers who lost employment income drew down from their savings accounts, 41% started using their credit cards more frequently, and 29% delayed payments on credit cards and other loans. But the data also show that it could have been much worse absent policy interventions, such as the stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance benefits (UIB) that so many New Yorkers describe as a lifeline in the qualitative interviews discussed in the pages that follow.In this report, we draw on qualitative data from the Poverty Tracker to better understand how these benefits impacted peoples' lives and the choices they made. We conducted a rolling set of interviews with 38 adults in New York City from July 2020 through May 2021. With some exceptions, we interviewed people twice at roughly six-month intervals. Our research design therefore allows us to track people's experiences with successive waves of stimulus payments and UIB, their spending of these benefits, and their efforts to return to work (or not) over time. We first describe how people budgeted and apportioned these benefits. We next examine whether and how direct cash benefits affected decision-making about employment.

Stand Together: Cash Assistance Funds for Undocumented Immigrants in a Time of Crisis

October 1, 2021

Open Society Foundations and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees commissioned this report as part of a larger effort to make resources, knowledge, and infrastructure developed during the pandemic known to grantmakers responding to future economic disruptions. Stand Together describes Covid-19 direct relief funds for undocumented immigrants and records promising practices for crisis grantmaking in immigrant communities.

From COVID-19 Response to Comprehensive Change: Policy Reforms to Equip Youths and Young Adults in Foster Care to Thrive

September 23, 2021

This brief highlights historical federal child welfare policy achievements and urges Congress to champion new reforms to eliminate harmful disparities that persist for youth of color and promote long-lasting benefits for all young people in and transitioning from foster care. There is urgency and an opportunity for Congress to lead reforms and build on the important, but temporary, changes mandated by the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act.

Direct Cash Transfer as a Vehicle for Speed, Inclusivity, and Equity

August 24, 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic, philanthropic entities across the US embraced giving directly—transferring cash to people—as an effective and efficient means of providing relief to those hit hard by the sudden economic and health emergency. Since the onset of the pandemic and in partnership with donors, nonprofit organizations, and local government agencies, the Greater Washington Community Foundation has facilitated the administration of approximately $26 million in funds, distributed in increments of $50 to $2,500 to approximately 60,000 residents across the Greater Washington, DC, region. This report describes the goals, strategies, and short-term achievements of the foundation and its partners in developing and implementing cash transfer strategies at the height of the pandemic. Closer examination of the foundation's role provides insight for private donors, government agencies, and nonprofits into how partnership with local philanthropy can help them deliver a speedy and equitable response to populations hit hardest by a crisis.

Three in 10 Adults in California Immigrant Families with Low Incomes Avoided Safety Net Programs in 2020

July 29, 2021

Many immigrant families have avoided safety net and pandemic relief programs in recent years over concerns that their participation would have adverse immigration consequences. These chilling effects on program participation occurred in the context of a restrictive immigration policy environment under the Trump administration, including the expansion of the "public charge" rule. Though the Biden administration has reverted to prior guidance on the public charge rule and reversed many other immigration policy changes, chilling effects may continue to deter adults in immigrant families from seeking safety net supports for which they or their children are eligible.This study draws on Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey data collected in December 2020 and interviews conducted with adults in immigrant families and people who work at organizations that connect immigrant families to health, nutrition, and other support programs in California. The interviews were conducted between March and May 2021, in the early months of the Biden administration, offering unique insights as policy priorities were shifting.

Modern, Effective, and Compassionate Billing: How Louisville Made an Overdue Upgrade to Assistance Programs and Improved the Utility-Customer Relationship

June 1, 2021

Access to water and sanitation services should not hinge on background, geography, or how much money someone makes—but it often does. Studies show that between 2012 and 2019, local water bills increased 31 percent nationally, far outpacing inflation and the consumer price index. Historical declines in federal support for water infrastructure have made this trend even worse. Local officials and water utility leaders have had no choice but to raise local water and sewer rates to pay for the needed operation, capital, and maintenance costs. Without federal and state support, local water and wastewater rates have increasingly become unaffordable for millions of Americans, and utilities have operated with outdated billing systems and often struggled to enroll low-income residents into the modest assistance available.Financial stress incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis has brought water affordability into sharp focus, and innovators have been seeking solutions to meet their communities' rising needs. The water and wastewater utilities in Louisville, Kentucky, provide one such case. Louisville shows how new, smarter solutions to bill relief are helping people in need while improving the utility-customer relationship by balancing care, bill assistance, and debt relief with needed revenue stability to maintain essential water systems. This case study explores key facets of the challenge, what Louisville achieved for its residents, and how the city's approach provides a model for other utilities to consider as they move forward. Sections discuss: How traditional customer assistance efforts have failed to meet customer needs, struggled with enrollment, and overlooked their fundamental purpose of guarding against revenue instability.What a modern, user-friendly approach to bill assistance looks like and how, combined with compassionate messaging, it can shift utility-customer payment and service relationship for the better.Why establishing innovative bill assistance options is especially wise given current and future federal funding opportunities to provide debt relief.Longer-term actions the federal government should prioritize to make safe, reliable water and wastewater service affordable for all.