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August 28, 2019
The Trump Administration has proposed a rule change that would eliminate food assistance for over 3 million Americans.
Under current rules, families can qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, a.k.a. food stamps) if their gross income is at or below 130% of the federal poverty level (equivalent to around $33,000 annually for a family of four). But under a 20-year old policy known as Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility, states have the ability to make SNAP requirements less restrictive and expand eligibility to those who might not otherwise be eligible.
Almost every state, including New York, uses Categorical Eligibility to increase access to SNAP. The US Dept. of Agriculture has proposed a rule that would essentially eliminate Categorical Eligibility, and subsequently end SNAP for all those who qualify under it – an estimated 3.1 million people nationwide.
New York uses Categorical Eligibility to expand SNAP access in multiple ways. The state uses a slightly higher income requirement so that more working families, seniors and people with disabilities can still qualify for SNAP. Higher income thresholds allow families with higher costs of living in New York to still receive vital food assistance, as well as avoid an immediate loss of benefits if they earn extra income that would put them over the poverty line.
If the proposed rule is implemented, a family that may otherwise qualify for SNAP would be considered ineligible if they had managed to save as little as $2,250. This asset limit punishes working families trying to save money by removing their benefits if they accumulate just a meager amount. Using Categorical Eligibility New York eliminated the asset limit, encouraging families to save for their future while not risking their SNAP.
These expanded eligibility rules helped SNAP reach a total of 2.9 million people in New York State in FY 2017 – 1.6 million in New York City alone. 30% of all NYC households receive SNAP benefits, as well as 15% of the entire state population. Eliminating New York’s supportive Categorical Eligibility rules would immediately disqualify an estimated 88,000 New Yorkers statewide who are currently receiving SNAP but whose income exceeds 130% of poverty. It would also harm an undetermined number of seniors and people with disabilities. The proposed rule could also have a major economic impact by forcing families who remain on SNAP to work fewer hours, save less, or risk losing their benefits.
Moreover, by eliminating SNAP benefits for households with school-age children, those children would immediately lose eligibility for free school meals.
Studies have shown that the Categorical Eligibility policy doesn’t substantially increase SNAP caseloads or costs, and 42 states from across the political spectrum use it to expand access to food. The proposed rule is not a policy aimed at more efficiency, but is instead the latest attack from this administration on low-income families and children, following previous proposed rule changes like changing how poverty is measured or limiting eligibility for public housing.
In response to the proposed rule 130 members of Congress recently sent a letter to the administration expressing their opposition. Now it is up to you.