The Trump administration is once again circumventing Congress to enact a sweeping cut of food stamp benefits that will direct affect at least 3.1 million Americans.
Using a rule change, the Department of Agriculture has decided that it will no longer allow states to set eligibility standards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The draft regulation would limit a policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which lets states enroll people in federal food benefits without asking about their assets, such as money in a bank account, if they already qualify for assistance from another program. The policy cuts paperwork and allows poor people to keep their benefits while building savings or earning modestly higher wages.
Republicans call it a “loophole” and have been trying to close it for years, most recently in legislation that passed the House in 2018 but the Senate ignored. The House then passed a SNAP reauthorization omitting the eligibility restriction, as well as a separate clampdown on state flexibility that has also become a proposed regulation.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue defended the move, remarking:
“Our job is to make sure folks have the tools they need to move away from SNAP dependency. 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.”
But Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said the changes made by the administration have repeatedly been rejected by Congress on a bipartisan basis:
“This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals and make it harder for states to administer food assistance.”
During a congressional hearing in June on the issue of such a rule change, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes warned that 25,000 households in the state — 8 percent of the state’s SNAP recipients — would see their food stamp benefits vanish, and she added:
“Many of these households are older adults on a fixed income.”
And while the administration claims it’s merely closing a loophole in SNAP eligibility requirements, the facts simply don’t support their assertion that millions of Americans are gaming the system to get benefits.
A 2012 investigation by the Government Accountability Office revealed that very few households that qualify for food benefits via the “loophole” have substantial assets. Based on that report, less than 3% of SNAP households would not have qualified because their incomes would have been too high.
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