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Trump Plan Could Remove 3 Million People from Food Stamp Program

Michael Rainey

The Trump administration wants to tighten the eligibility rules in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP or food stamps, in a move that could remove as many as 3.1 people from the program.

Here are the basics:

  • Currently, 43 states automatically enroll people in SNAP when they begin receiving benefits in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
  • The rule that allows automatic enrollment is called "expanded categorical eligibility," and the Trump administration claims the system has been abused by allowing people who receive minimal TANF assistance – as little as an informational brochure – to enter the food stamp program without proper screening.
  • The Trump administration wants to restrict automatic enrollment to households that receive substantial, ongoing aid from TANF, defined as $50 in cash or noncash benefits for six months or more. All other households would have to apply for SNAP benefits and be screened for eligibility with respect to income and assets.
  • According to the USDA, the screening will remove 3.1 million people from the SNAP rolls, saving the federal government about $2 billion a year. The reduction would affect about 8% of current enrollees; the food program aided about 36 million people in April 2019, down from 38 million a year earlier.
  • The rule change would also affect 265,000 school children who have been automatically enrolled in school lunch programs. They would now have to apply separately to participate in those programs.

The proposal is part of an ongoing effort by the Trump administration to reduce participation in the food assistance program. In December, the White House proposed tightening work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries.

The Trump administration says the rule change will protect the food aid program from waste and abuse. "The proposed rule would fix a loophole that has expanded SNAP recipients in some states to include people who receive assistance when they clearly don't need it,” a USDA press release said Tuesday.

But some Democrats and advocacy groups say the move is an attack on low-income families. “This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals, and make it harder for states to administer food assistance,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

The proposed rule, which you can review here, is expected to be published in the Federal Register this week, where it will be open to public comment for 60 days. The rule will not require congressional approval to take effect.

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