More than 3 million people could soon be classified as ineligible for food stamp benefits in the wake of President Donald Trump’s massive regulatory attack on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
About 45.4 million people use SNAP in the U.S.; Children use SNAP the most, and the large majority of those who are enrolled in the program are millennials and gen z, according to the USDA. Currently, in 43 states, if you folks receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, they can automatically be able to participate in SNAP. However, on Tuesday, July 23, the Agriculture Department issued a proposed rule that would close what the administration calls a “loophole” that allows that to happen. Such a rule would tighten the definition of “categorical eligibility,” which makes it easier for people with incomes above 130 percent of the poverty level ($1,307/month for a family of one) to become eligible for SNAP.
“Some states are taking advantage of loopholes that allow people to receive the SNAP benefits who would otherwise not qualify and for which they are not entitled,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters on a conference call on Monday.
Such a regulation change could save the USDA $2.5 billion a year, Reuters reported. But that is not much in comparison to the new two-year budget recently agreed upon by the White House and congressional negotiators that would raise spending by $320 billion over existing caps, according to the New York Times.
And many people don’t think the current categorical eligibility model is a loophole at all — in fact, health care advocates simply say it streamlines the SNAP application process for people who qualify for certain benefits under TANF, lessening the burden on both individuals applying for benefits and states mulling through the applications. According to CNN, the wide majority of states use the streamlined system, which allows states to eliminate the asset test and raise one of the income thresholds.
“This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals, and make it harder for states to administer food assistance,” Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, told Reuters. Nearly half of SNAP recipients are children, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and 21 percent are adults who live with those children. And the system itself is also mired in confusion; a majority of low-income college-aged students who may be eligible for the SNAP program don’t participate in it, often because they were never made aware of the options available to them. Many college students also report being food-insecure while being enrolled in classes.
This isn’t the first time Republicans have attempted to close this specific so-called loophole. Last year, House Republicans attempted to impose similar restrictions on the Farm Bill, but it stalled in the Senate. This time, however, the USDA won’t need congressional approval, Brandon Lipps, a USDA acting deputy undersecretary, told reporters on the Monday call, according to Reuters
Ben Olinsky, the senior vice president of policy and strategy at the Center for American Progress said in a press release that the new rule “would punish families that try to save for the future by forcing states to take food assistance away from those with even modest savings of a few thousand dollars — which could help them weather a health emergency, a car breaking down, or the loss of a job.” He added that it would “disproportionately hurt families with children, seniors, and disabled people.”
The USDA is accepting comments on the proposal through www.regulations.gov for 90 days before putting anything into effect.