Documentation requirements didn’t work in food assistance; let’s not make the same mistake twice

Minnesota has the opportunity to learn from its mistakes. Currently, Minnesota’s Legislature is considering new documentation requirements in Medical Assistance, Minnesota’s Medicaid program. The reality is we know how this turns out: many Minnesotans will likely lose health care and struggle to stay healthy enough to work.

This isn’t the first time Minnesota has required extra documentation to receive basic supports. In 2013, Minnesota implemented a documentation requirement rule in its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. This rule required that single adults without dependents demonstrate they work 20 hours each week, participate in job training, or work at an unpaid job for the government in order to receive assistance to buy nutritious food through SNAP. The SNAP rule has exemptions for people with a serious illness or disability.

Unfortunately, nearly 47,000 Minnesotans lost their food assistance within one year of starting the SNAP reporting requirements. In 2017, only 6,000 adults without children were able to buy nutritious food through SNAP under this rule, likely because so many people faced significant barriers to work or paperwork glitches that prevented them from using SNAP.

The people who are denied assistance to put healthy food on their table because of this rule face many barriers to getting and keeping a job. They include Minnesotans experiencing homelessness, struggling with addictions, dealing with the aftermath of intense trauma and PTSD; experiencing  literacy challenges; or lacking reliable transportation. All of the people who lost food stamps made less than $19,000 a year, and half of them had no income at all because of the significant barriers to employment they experience.

Minnesotans also lost food assistance because of problematic paperwork glitches. Some Minnesotans who should have been exempted still lost food assistance because counties were unable to process exemptions due to a lack of resources. Counties had thousands of mailed notices returned to them, meaning many Minnesotans lost assistance because they never even knew there was more paperwork to complete.

The reporting requirement proposal in Medical Assistance has a complex exemption system that Minnesota’s 87 counties would have to implement at great expense. In fact, a recent analysis by Minnesota Management and Budget indicates that counties will have to spend $284 million just in the first two years of implementation in order to handle the volume of new paperwork this rule would require. Failure to adequately fund these costs will likely result in people needlessly losing their health care. There is also no funding for employment and training services.

We can expect similar results from the proposed changes in Medical Assistance: fewer Minnesotans able to get basic necessities for survival. Last time it was food; this time it’s the ability to see a doctor or fill a prescription. Creating more barriers to health care is the wrong choice for Minnesota.

-Sarah Orange with special thanks to Jessica Webster from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid Legal Services Advocacy Project for compiling the data and tirelessly advocating for Minnesotans who buy nutritious food through SNAP

About Sarah Orange

Sarah Orange is policy advocate for the Minnesota Budget Project.
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