Trump's proposed SNAP changes would mean millions lose food stamp access

Three proposed rule changes by the Trump administration could cause millions of poor people to lose access to food stamps and decrease the size of the benefit for millions more, a new study has found.

Over the past year, the Department of Agriculture proposed three changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP or food stamps. The new rules create stricter work requirements for program eligibility, cap deductions for utility allowances and “reform” the way 40 states automatically enroll families into SNAP when they receive other forms of federal aid.

A study by the Urban Institute released this week examined the three rules in combination for the first time and found 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 who conducted the study. "It’s about a 9.4 percent reduction in the number of people participating and about an 8 percent reduction in overall benefits.”

Critics and experts say that would be antithetical to the program's goals to address food insecurity in the United States.

Craig Gundersen, an agricultural and consumer economics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has studied the program for more than two decades, said that about a million people could become food-insecure because of the change. He added that 50 percent of those 3.7 million SNAP beneficiaries were already food insecure despite the assistance.

The changes, he said, would put many Americans in a worse position, increasing hunger and health issues. Each additional adult who becomes food-insecure sees an additional $2,000 in healthcare costs, Gundersen explained.

"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, meanwhile, estimates that the changes would reduce the SNAP budget by about $4.2 billion.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue defended the work requirements in a USA Today column, emphasizing that it would save taxpayer dollars.

“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.”

All of the new rules have gone through a comment period with the changes to utilities currently taking feedback until Monday. Tens of thousands of people have already responded, with most providing negative responses.

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