With welfare reform in 1996 under a Democratic President and a Republican Congress, AFDC was replaced by Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), which had a broader purpose and gave states broad flexibility to expend funds in achieving “four policy goals: (1) provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes or in homes of relatives; (2) end dependence by needy parents on government benefits through promoting work, job preparation, and marriage; (3) reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and (4) promote the formation and maintenance of two-parent households.”

Falk and Aussenberg continue: “The 1996 welfare reform law did not substantively change SNAP law with respect to categorical eligibility. Rather, it simply replaced the reference to AFDC with one to TANF in the section of law that conveys categorical eligibility. As discussed above, TANF gives states much broader authority than they had under AFDC to offer different types of benefits and services. This expansion of authority under TANF had major implications for categorical eligibility, allowing states to convey categorical eligibility based on receipt of a wide range of human services rather than simply cash welfare.”

While recipients of cash assistance were categorically eligible for SNAP benefits, states had to adopt a policy of expanded categorical eligibility to make recipients of other non-cash benefits funded by TANF and associated state funds eligible to receive SNAP benefits. In response to the financial crisis that greeted it, the Obama administration’s Food and Nutrition Service wrote: “In these times of rising caseloads and shrinking state budgets, expanded categorical eligibility can benefit states by simplifying policies, by reducing the amount of time states must spend verifying resources, and reducing errors. It can benefit families hurt by the economic crisis.” As a result, the number of states participating in expanded categorical eligibility for SNAP benefits increased.

“The omnibus ‘farm bill’ (H.R. 6083) ordered to be reported by the House Agriculture Committee on July 11, 2012, would restrict TANF-based categorical eligibility in SNAP to households receiving TANF-funded cash assistance. That is, it would end ‘broad-based’ categorical eligibility [authorized in 1996 legislation but adopted by several additional states following the financial crisis]. This [cash-only] provision was previously approved by the full House in H.R. 5652, the Sequestration Replacement Reconciliation Act. The farm bill that passed the Senate (S. 3240) does not address SNAP categorical eligibility,” write Falk and Aussenberg in their summary.

Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the Director of UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). Harwood D. Schaffer is a Research Assistant Professor at APAC. (865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; dray@utk.edu  and hdschaffer@utk.edu;  http://www.agpolicy.org.