Denying food to our neighbors

Posted 12/11/19

In 2018, about 40 million Americans received benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps. In Sullivan County, an estimated 13,209 people received …

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Denying food to our neighbors

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In 2018, about 40 million Americans received benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps. In Sullivan County, an estimated 13,209 people received SNAP benefits. In Wayne County, the number of recipients was 6,298, and in Pike County, it was 6,384.

On December 4, the Trump Administration gave final approval to a rule that will change the way states administer the SNAP program, resulting in the removal of nearly 700,000 low-income or non-working people from the SNAP rolls. In our area, that’s about 516 people who will no longer be getting food assistance. Those people will no longer be able to spend that money, which comes from our taxes, in local grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

When the rule takes effect in April 2020, adults without disabilities or children, and who aren’t working at least 20 hours a week or enrolled in a training program, will be able to collect SNAP benefits for only three months—unless the unemployment rate in the county in question is six percent or higher. Currently, states are able to waive that requirement, but that will become much harder when the rule takes effect.

The development may sound reasonable to many. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which promulgated the rule, expects it to save $5.5 billion over five years.

“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” said Sonny Perdue, secretary of USDA. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”

But the Senate and House overwhelmingly rejected a similar rule when they passed the 2018 Farm Bill because it creates too much food insecurity for too many residents.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who sits on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said, “This Administration is out of touch with families who are struggling to make ends meet by working seasonal jobs or part-time jobs with unreliable hours. Seasonal holiday workers and workers with unreliable hours like waiters and waitresses are the kinds of workers hurt by this proposal.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer said Wednesday the new rule “would potentially throw hundreds of thousands off food assistance, driving the vulnerable into hunger just as the Christmas season begins.”

People interested in the issue also commented about the change. In the nearly 700,000 comments, the overwhelming majority of them opposed the changes. But the Trump Administration ignored those comments.

This is not the only change to the SNAP program that the administration has been working on. According to a report by the Urban Institute (www.bit.ly/urbaninstitute), another change would restrict the ability of the states to make residents automatically eligible for SNAP benefits if they are enrolled in other assistance programs such as Supplemental Security Income or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The report says this change would not only result in fewer people receiving SNAP benefits, it would also cause nearly 982,000 school children to lose automatic eligibility to the federal school lunch and breakfast programs.

A third change relates to the role the cost of household utilities play in the SNAP program. Currently states have wide latitude to set the amount of utility allowances, such as the cost of heating oil, used to calculate a SNAP recipient’s income, thus sometimes resulting in a greater SNAP benefit. The proposed change would create a standardized allowance, which would have a negative impact, especially in northeast states, but a positive one in southern states.

If all three changes had been approved and implemented last year, according to the study, SNAP participation in Pennsylvania would have been reduced by 19.4 percent, and in New York by 19.2 percent. Participation in seven southern states, meanwhile, would have increased slightly. Country-wide, the three changes would have resulted in 3.7 million fewer people receiving SNAP benefits.

When federal benefits are cut, those who feel the pain are those with the least to lose, people without higher education, veterans, people of color and people living in rural areas.  The new rules will hurt the people who most need assistance, people who on average earn well below the poverty line of $12,490 a year.

Denying food assistance to this population greatly increases the chance that they will experience hunger on a regular basis and be negatively impacted by diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses.  The rule changes are cruel and will cause real hardship to people across the country.

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