Hawai‘i Appleseed’s report, “Helping Make Ends Meet: Increasing SNAP and EITC Participation Among Eligible Households in Hawai‘i,” examines the severe underutilization of these two federally-funded programs in Hawai‘i and recommends new opportunities to build upon current outreach efforts and significantly increase participation in our state. To read the entire report, click here.
Hawai‘i has not only the highest cost of living in the country, but also the ninth highest rate of poverty, the second highest rate of homelessness, and the fourth heaviest tax burden on the poor. However, two major federal antipoverty programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), can help mitigate the financial struggles of these families. SNAP benefits and the EITC are both entirely funded by the federal government, meaning our families can access these critical income supports at a minimal cost to the state while also stimulating our economy as these dollars are spent locally.
SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, supports the nutritional needs of low-income households by providing financial assistance to purchase food. The EITC is a refundable tax credit that boosts working families’ income. Targeted at households with children, it is widely considered to be the most effective government anti-poverty program. Ample research shows the benefits of both SNAP and the EITC are profound, with recipients experiencing, improved health, financial, and educational outcomes. They also stimulate our local economy as families spend these funds to cover necessities, with each dollar producing at least $1.60 in economic activity.
Here in Hawai‘i, far too many low-income households are losing out on significant financial assistance from these programs. In fact, more than one out of three SNAP-eligible households do not access SNAP, making our state 49th in the country in terms of SNAP participation. One out of five working families who qualify for the EITC don’t claim it. In 2013, Hawai‘i’s eligible residents missed out on an estimated $241 million in SNAP benefits and another $60 million in EITC refunds due to under-participation. As a result, our state economy missed out on an estimated $480 million in economic activity that would have resulted from spending SNAP benefits and the EITC.
Key recommendations include a more thorough assessment of community-level participation rates and service needs; expanding, refining, and developing outreach campaigns using targeted approaches to reach underserved groups; expanding coalitions and partnerships to reach those outside of formal social services systems and ensure that SNAP and EITC are made a standard part of client services; and expanding systemic access by easing the SNAP application process and recruiting additional Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites.
We hope that this report makes clear the importance of SNAP and the EITC as vital antipoverty programs that are making a real difference for Hawai‘i’s low-income residents—and that far too many households are missing out. Investing in outreach will reap benefits for our families, children, and economy, and Hawai‘i should make such an investment with creative, dedicated approaches to expanding participation in SNAP and the EITC.
This report was made possible thanks to generous grants from Kaiser Permanente Hawaii Community Benefit, the Food Research and Action Center, and the Walmart Foundation.