Health law brings growth in food stamps in some states
Chicago — President Barack Obama's health care law has had a surprising side effect: In some states, it appears to be enticing more Americans to apply for food stamps, even as the economy improves.
New, streamlined application systems built for the health care overhaul are making it easier for people to enroll in government benefit programs, including insurance coverage and food stamps.
With the economy improving, national food-stamp enrollment fell in 2013 and 2014. But in 11 states, demand rose between January 2013 and the end of 2014, the AP analysis showed.
Michigan is among the states with a decline in food stamp enrollment, even though it has added nearly 600,000 people into its expanded Medicaid program in the past year. The number of food stamp cases dropped 8.4 percent from January 2013 to December 2014.
"The main reason for the case decline is the improving economy in Michigan," said Bob, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. "Our caseloads have been going down as the unemployment rate decreases."
In most states with more food stamp participation, the enrollment increases were not huge, ranging from 1 percent to 6 percent over two years, according to an Associated Press analysis. The sole exception was Nevada, where enrollment shot up 14 percent.
The enrollment is climbing as Republicans try to cut the costs of the food program and at a time when food-stamp usage would normally be expected to decline. Eligibility rules have not changed.
Six of the states employed new easy sign-up systems that helped people apply for both Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, at the same time. Some used online calculators or click-the-box features.
The food-stamp increase was not envisioned by either supporters or opponents of the new health care system. While it's unclear exactly how much growth can be attributed to the law and incentives it offered to states, the increased enrollment could be expensive. The average food-stamp recipient was paid $125.35 a month last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP.
Based on that, the nearly 632,000 people added to food-stamp rolls in the 11 states would cost SNAP nearly $79 million a month.
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