In July of this year, the Trump Administration proposed a change to the rules that govern who is eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, commonly known as food stamps. The new rules would prohibit states from expanding who is eligible for the program beyond the so-called federal baseline, which is $ 33,475 for a family of four — or 130% of the federal poverty level.
Under federal law, anyone who earns less than 130% of the federal poverty level is eligible for SNAP benefits. About 40 million Americans rely on food stamps. The program accounts for approximately 2% of the federal government’s budget.
Thirty-nine states have expanded eligibility regarding who can receive SNAP to include some people who make more than the federal baseline. It is this group of states that would have to restrict eligibility under the Trump Administration’s rule change.
Under the proposed rule changes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than three million people in the 39 states would lose benefits. The policy firm Mathematica estimates an even larger number – more than 3.6 million – would be negatively affected. What’s more, nearly 75% of households projected to lose benefits live in poverty.
Critics assert that the Trump Administration’s proposed changes will be “detrimental to the health and well-being” of those affected, and “further exacerbate existing health disparities by forcing millions into food insecurity.”
Philosophically, the policy appears to be inconsistent with the Trump Administration’s stated goal of granting states more autonomy in their decision-making and administration of social programs. At the same time, the policy is consistent with the Administration’s aim to reduce the overall size of the welfare state.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue defended the rule changes, as he claimed they will “close a loophole” and save the federal government an estimated $ 2.5 billion annually. Presumably, the loophole Perdue is referring to is the set of unequal eligibility rules for SNAP across the 50 states.
What isn’t clear, however, is whether the proposed new federal rules are based on “relevant scientific and technical findings.” Current law requires any proposed changes to federal rules to be supported by such findings.
In fact, the opposite could be claimed, as research suggests SNAP is a relatively efficient safety net program that decreases criminal activity, improves educational performance and ameliorates health and economic outcomes.
The public comment period just closed two weeks ago. Over 14,000 comments have been registered. Legal challenges will likely follow if the proposed rule goes into effect.