Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Oregon $450 Monthly SNAP Standard Utility Allowance Is Much Higher Than the Average Oregon HUD Voucher Utility Allowance of $122.

I previously posted a few times about the SNAP program. Most recently in 2021 I pointed out that the SNAP "excess shelter" income disregard provided a $20 billion boost to SNAP benefits. 

In looking for more up to date data I discovered the use of state standard utility allowances used to calculate SNAP benefits; an Excel file with current FY allowances is HERE

A higher SNAP utility allowance  increases the amount of benefits to SNAP recipients by reducing their countable income. The SNAP utility allowance continues to be available to recipients of LIHEAP funds, so long as LIHEAP benefits are more than $20 a year. (Current LIHEAP benefit levels by state are HERE). 

I was surprised to see that these SNAP standard utility allowance were much higher than I remembered for HUD subsidized housing programs. So I went back and pulled out the Oregon average utility allowance amounts from the Dec 2021 HUD Picture of Subsidized Housing data for the HUD voucher program--the biggest HUD program by far in Oregon. 

The Oregon voucher average utility allowance shown in the HUD Picture data for December 2021 was $122 and 91% of units are reported as having a utility allowance.

The SNAP standard utility allowance for Oregon for the current Federal fiscal year  is $450 -- $328/269% more than the HUD average voucher utility allowance in Oregon. 

My understanding is that the SNAP utility allowance includes a telephone component [$70] that is not included in the HUD voucher utility allowance and also that SNAP is available to homeowners who may have larger units and more single family units than the voucher program. These explain some of the difference in utility allowance but not all of the $328 difference. 

Use of a generous utility allowance reduces SNAP income used to calculate benefits (especially for renters) and thus increases SNAP benefits in the same way that the "excess shelter" income disregard does. 

And the receipt of LIHEAP funds by some SNAP recipients adds to household income without reducing SNAP benefits. 

Bottom Line: 

By reducing out of pocket food expense SNAP benefits increase the amount of income remaining for other expenses, including shelter. 

By reducing out of pocket expenses for energy [with no reduction in SNAP benefits] the LIHEAP program increases the amount of income remaining for other expenses, including food and shelter. 

Impact of Increase in HUD Utility Allowance Not as Clear.

The impact of increasing HUD utility allowances is not as clear to me. A previous National Housing Law analysis indicates that increasing utility allowances without increasing payment standards would result in the voucher holder paying more than 30% of income for shelter costs. 

Including the higher SNAP utility allowance in the voucher payment standard could increase total shelter costs (and subsidy costs) and deducting them could reduce the rent received by the owner and increase tenant paid rent and reduce the availability of units available to voucher holders.

Originally created and posted on the Oregon Housing Blog.    

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