The Trump regime is proposing a new government rule that would deny an estimated 3.1 million people access to food stamps. The plan would eliminate automatic enrollment in food stamps for poor families who receive welfare benefits, and some 500,000 students would no longer be eligible to receive free school meals. The administration says that the new rules would cut food stamp spending by $2.5 billion annually.
Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says the new rule, under the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, would limit the use of broad-based categorical eligibility adopted in 43 states, that makes it easier for Americans with somewhat higher incomes and more savings to receive food stamps. The proposed rules change comes after Congress blocked the administration’s effort to pass new restrictions on SNAP in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Ellen Vollinger, legal/food stamp director with the Food Research and Action Center who discusses her group’s opposition to the proposed Food Stamp rules change that will mostly impact working families with children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities.
ELLEN VOLLINGER: This is a proposed rule. It’s something that the Trump administration has put out for public comment. They’re proposing to take away some flexibility that states have had for over 20 years to be able to align some of their programs, streamline some of their procedures and serve more people who are needy and who would qualify with low incomes. They’re making it harder for those states to be able to serve more of those people. Specifically, many states have taken the option not to impose an asset test on households.
In other words, let’s just look at their income circumstances. We know that not that many people with low income have sufficient or substantial assets, but it can be a barrier to their applying because there’s paperwork involved and other things. Let’s just focus on what kind of money do they actually have available to buy food? What is their income? This rule that the administration is proposing would take away that flexibility, so in states that take the option, they would now have to go back and start looking at household assets before they would give them food stamps and they would be allowed to have very little in the bank to go forth with a SNAP application, but also importantly, there’s been a recognition in Congress that as working families, maybe they’re very low income, but they start earning more.
Some places there’s an increase in the minimum wage. In some places they’re getting a promotion or there’s just something that’s happening in their work hours. Maybe they’re getting a few more of them. They start to earn more. That’s putting them on a pathway to economic stability and independence. We would like to see (the states take) the option to continue to work with those families even as they’re earning more. They might have a little bit more in their pockets that they’re earning, but they still have substantial expenses going out of that pocket for things like housing, things like utilities, things like childcare, things that make that money not available to spend on food. And in SNAP, they take those things into account and will determine whether or not those households are net income poor. The rule that’s being proposed is going to make that very hard for states to do. They’re going to say to the state “if that family is starting to earn too much, we don’t care about the other expenses. They’re not going to be able to qualify for a benefit.” That’s going to be a very big hardship and make it so much harder for those families to stay on a path of stability. It’s going to be a very abrupt pulling the rug out from under them of having food support.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Ellen, this is not just a policy discussion, some academic kind of conversation removed from the real world, so I wondered if you’d share with our listeners a bit about the real world impacts on people for these 3.1 million low-income folks with children, senior citizens or people with disabilities. What are some of the hard choices that they are going to be faced with if this program is cut and they’re left without that food subsidy that many of them depend on currently?
ELLEN VOLLINGER: Well, we know that people who struggle with low income do face a lot of very difficult choices. Getting SNAP, even though it’s not a very big supplement all the time, sometimes it’s a pretty modest benefit. Overall, it’s averages only $4 a person a day, but it can make the difference for them of not having to choose between making the rent payment and having food. It can make the difference for elderly to figure out how to afford that medicine and not have to choose one versus the other. Food versus medicine. These are not choices that any of us would want to make. And they’re really untenable, particularly for households with children where they will make every attempt to protect the child before that hunger hits them.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Is there anything that Congress can do going forward that would codify the rules that the Trump administration is now trying to change?
ELLEN VOLLINGER: You know it could, but it shouldn’t have to. I mean it’s done its job in the farm bill, which is to leave these rules in place as they were. If there’s one thing we’re asking Congress to do right now it’s to strengthen SNAP. As I mentioned, those benefits are only $4 a person a day on average. Unfortunately, there is a bill that Congress has before it, HR 1368 which would improve benefits and we know we’ve already got 212 lawmakers co-sponsoring that bill with Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-North Carolina). We think Congress did its job with respect to this particular rule area and if need be, we’d ask them to step in later on. But right now, the thing that Congress should do is go ahead and make SNAP benefits a stronger benefit.
For more information, visit Food Research and Action Center at frac.org.