Rule changes being proposed by the Trump administration could cause millions of poor people to lose access to food stamps. The proposal could also decrease the benefits of millions of others.
The Department of Agriculture has proposed three changes to the SNAP food stamp program. Those new changes would create a much stricter work requirement to be eligible for the program. It would also cap deductions for utility allowances as well as “reform” the way that at least 40 states enroll families for the program when they receive any other type of federal aid.
A new study took a look at how the rule changes would affect first-time applicants as well as families currently receiving benefits. The study was conducted by the Urban Institute and was released last week. The study discovered that “3.7 million fewer people would receive SNAP in an average month, 2.2 million households would see their average monthly benefits drop by $127, more than 3 million others would see an average drop of $37 per month, and 982,000 students would lose access to free or reduced lunches.”
“What we found is that overall the three proposed changes would reduce the number of households participating in SNAP by about 11 percent if this was implemented in 2018,” said Laura Wheaton, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “It’s about a 9.4 percent reduction in the number of people participating and about an 8 percent reduction in overall benefits.”
Craig Gundersen, an agricultural and consumer economics professor at the University of Illinois has studied the food stamp program for nearly two decades. Hr recently stated that an estimated one million people could become “food insecure” because of the changes. He also shared that 50 percent of those 3.7 million SNAP beneficiaries were already food insecure despite the SNAP assistance.
Gundersen added that the changes would put many Americans in “a worse position, increasing hunger and health issues. He stated that each person that becomes food insecure sees a rise of an estimated $2,000 in healthcare costs.”
“The essential goal of the program is to mitigate hunger and its consequences in the United States,” he said. “Anything that impedes SNAP of doing that is very problematic as it leads to food insecurity in our country.”
The USDA has estimated that the changes would reduce the SNAP budget by $4.2 billion.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has repeatedly defended the work requirements.
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“At USDA, our informal motto is ‘Do Right and Feed Everyone,’” Perdue wrote. “With these proposed improvements, we will ‘do right’ by the taxpayers and restore the dignity of work to the able-bodied who receive SNAP benefits. And, we will ‘feed everyone’ by ensuring the health and stability of SNAP for those who truly need it.”
The proposed new rules have gone through a comment period with the changes to utilities currently taking feedback until Monday. So far, tens of thousands of people have responded with mostly negative comments.
The Trump administration has also proposed a deduction for shelter and utility costs. Those changes could result in people being forced to choose between purchasing food and paying for housing.
Gundersen said this change will prove to be a major cost for those living in metropolitan areas where the cost of living is so high.
“On the one hand they want to encourage people to work, but on the other, they would be taking away that incentive,” Gundersen stated.
Gundersen added that the SNAP program was never intended to be a work program. He states that it was created to address food insecurity in the U.S.
“As it operates now, SNAP does not discourage people from participating in the labor market,” Gundersen said.
“There are some assistance programs that do discourage people to work, but this is not one of them,” Gundersen said, adding that what lawmakers should be asking is: “What makes this program work so well and why does it work well as compared to other programs?”
“SNAP is related to hunger and getting people the nutrition they need,” said Jocelyn Lantrip, the communications director at Food Bank of Northern Nevada. “Food shouldn’t be a luxury.”
Food banks like Lantrip’s wouldn’t be able to accommodate the mounting needs of the additional people that would need help due to the Trump administration’s proposed changes.
“That’s really hard for food banks to keep up with if you have that kind of decline in benefits,” she said. “We support people if they fall outside of the safety net, but we can’t replace the safety net as a food bank. We’re spinning our wheels already, because when unemployment is low people assume hunger is low, but we’re just helping more working poor than before.”