Costs Of Living Not Reflected In Food Stamps For Guam

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Under revised rules, about 10,000 more would qualify

By Cameron Miculka

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 2, 2013) – Although Guam has a higher percentage of its population on food stamps than any state, current guidelines don't accurately reflect the real cost of food on Guam.

In fact, revised poverty thresholds would give almost 10,000 Guamanians, who don't currently qualify, access to federal assistance.

Currently, eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, is determined by a household's income, minus certain expenses.

Department of Agriculture guidelines for eligibility track with guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and vary by household size.

Despite the higher cost of food in Guam, the eligibility level for Guam is the same as that used by states in the mainland.

For example, after deductions, a standard four-person household, whether in the mainland or Guam, can't make more than $1,963 each month in order to qualify for assistance.

Alaska and Hawaii, though, aren't restricted to that ceiling.

Instead, a four-person household living in Hawaii can make $2,250 each month and still receive assistance.

The threshold is even higher in Alaska -- $2,454 for a similarly sized household.

Higher payments

The federal government does take a higher cost of living into account when determining how much SNAP enrollees receive each month.

In fiscal 2012, enrollees here received an average of $215.93 each, more than SNAP participants in any of the 50 states.

Those higher allotments, though, mean nothing for the thousands of Guam residents whose income puts them just over the poverty line.

Poverty thresholds for Alaska and Hawaii are calculated separately using the cost-of-living differential between those two states and Washington, D.C.

The federal report said applying that metric to Guam would push poverty guidelines here to 125 percent of their current level.

That means the post-deductions income ceiling for a four-person household here would increase to $2,454 per month when rounded to the nearest dollar, tying Alaska for the highest guidelines in the country.

About 45,785 Guam residents lived under 125 percent of the current poverty threshold in 2009, according to census data.

Compared to the 35,845 Guamanians who lived at or below the poverty line that year, increasing guidelines would recognize almost 10,000 more Guamanians as living in poverty.

It isn't certain how many of those residents would qualify or apply for assistance and the report didn't examine the impact of individual income eligibility.

However, data from the Department of Agriculture indicate that there were 36,926 Guam residents participating in SNAP in fiscal 2010.

Aside from SNAP, the GAO report indicated that revising guidelines also could affect the National School Lunch Program.

Federal funding for other programs, such as Medicaid, wouldn't be affected by revised guidelines, said the report.

Health and Human Services responded to that report saying that using cost-of-living allowances as a metric for revising guidelines isn't a practical guide. Also, other considerations, such as median income, need to be taken into account.

The agency also noted that the cost of living for Hawaii and Alaska was determined by the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1970. Health and Human Services adopted those guidelines 12 years later.

The Government Accountability Office report also noted that the determinations weren't recommendations, but simply an evaluation of the impact of potential revisions.

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