Why? because State agencies don’t ensure residents are enrolled in key benefits programs they qualify for.
“Confusing and burdensome program application processes, stigma around receiving public assistance,” and difficulty navigating the technology required to access benefits are to blame, according to a new report by Professor Teresa Ghilarducci of The New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.
Many potential beneficiaries are older New Yorkers at a time when the State’s 65-and-over population – and their poverty rate – are skyrocketing, according to a recent analysis by the Center for an Urban Future.
AARP New York, which contributed to and endorses the New School report, is urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to require “data matching” by key agencies to ensure older New Yorkers are enrolled in key programs – just as the Governor has proposed for benefits programs for children and families.
“This is the $4 billion question for New York – why aren’t we maximizing access to benefits? The short answer is, we can, and we should,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “Tapping this federal aid would not only help hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income New Yorkers but would also drive more money through economic stimulus into State coffers to help address other state budget needs.”
The Food Research & Action Center, Hunger Free America, Medicare Rights Center and the Public Utility Law Project (PULP) also contributed to and endorse the report.
“New York State has important opportunities to build on the efforts it makes to bring home the federal dollars to which New Yorkers are entitled in SNAP and many other key public benefits,” said Food Research & Action Center President Luis Guardia. “This new report shows that by using additional technology tools and data matching the state can help leverage more federal SNAP dollars that will improve food security and health for New Yorkers and boost the state’s economy.”
“An estimated 338,000 older New Yorkers struggle against hunger, so both the state’s economy and older New Yorkers suffer when eligible people don’t access the federally-funded nutrition benefits for which they are eligible,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a national nonprofit group headquartered in New York. “Better using data matches and other technologies to make it easier for them to get food help is both smart and compassionate.”
“This initiative is a great opportunity to connect New Yorkers with all the benefits they are eligible for,” said Fred Riccardi, President of the Medicare Rights Center. “Using available data to maximize enrollment into multiple benefits for people who are already enrolled in one benefit will decrease the burden on low-income New Yorkers to discover and apply for crucial assistance they might be missing out on.”
“Households that are enrolled in their utility company’s Energy Affordability Program (EAP) receive much-needed bill relief every month, but PULP’s estimates show that less than half of eligible households are actually enrolled in the program,” said Ian Donaldson, Communications and Policy Associate with the Public Utility Law Project of New York (“PULP”). “New York needs a uniform and automatic process to bolster EAP enrollment and help our most financially-vulnerable households save money. Now is the time to establish such and require data sharing between the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and the regulated gas and electric utilities.”
The report targets the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), Medicare Savings Program (MSP), and electric and gas utility companies’ Energy Assistance Programs.
All carry similar income eligibility guidelines, are administered by the State Department of Health (DOH) and Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), and are largely funded by the federal government.
But, the report finds, “Data are not fully shared among the agencies aimed to get all those who qualify to participate in the programs they need,” and urges DOH and OTDA “to match data among the four programs, which all have similar eligibility standards.”
Over half the New Yorkers eligible for HEAP – more than 1.2 million households – aren’t enrolled. If they were, it would drive nearly $600 million more in federal aid based on the average HEAP benefit of $485 per year.
The State increased income eligibility limits for the MSP last year, qualifying about 300,000 more New Yorkers 65 and over. The average recipient would receive over $7,000 a year in subsidies to help pay for their prescription drugs and Medicare premiums – driving over $2 billion in additional federal aid to New York.
About 200,000 New Yorkers 60 and over qualify for but aren’t receiving SNAP, according to the report. Enrolling them would drive nearly $400 million more in federal aid to needy households.
State Senator Kevin Parker and Assembly Member Michelle Solages have introduced S4548–A4876 to expand a New York City program by requiring OTDA, through data matching, to generate lists of beneficiaries of OTDA-administered programs who are also eligible for utility companies’ affordability programs.
“NY State technology glitches should not leave federal money on the table but sent to those in need – as Congress intended,” the report concludes.
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation’s largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org, www.aarp.org/espanol or follow @AARP, @AARPenEspanol and @AARPadvocates, @AliadosAdelante on social media.