Looming restrictions on SNAP benefits due April 1st

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For many, hunger is just around the corner:

The analysis notes that if the policies had been implemented in 2018, an estimated 3.7 million fewer people and 2.1 million fewer households would have received SNAP benefits in an average month. According to the study, the combined impact of the policies would have been to reduce overall SNAP participation by at least 15 percent in 13 states and make almost three-quarters of households with gross incomes above 130 percent of the federal poverty level ineligible for the program.

Losing much-needed food benefits would cause millions of individuals and families to lapse into food insecurity—defined as “the uncertainty of having, or unable to acquire, enough food due to insufficient money or other resources.”

Aside from the sheer cruelty of tightening restrictions on food stamps, it also represents sheer ignorance of economic forces. Instead of bailing out farmers, an expansion of SNAP would inject capital into not only the agricultural sector, but others, as well. But that is apparently way too complicated for the Liar-In-Chief. Here are the changes that are coming in a couple weeks:

The first change to SNAP regulations (proposed in February 2019 and finalized in December 2019) will tighten the criteria for obtaining state waivers from the time limit that currently applies to benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents. Under current regulations, healthy adults without minor children are limited to three months of SNAP benefits in a 36-month time period unless they meet certain work requirements (working or volunteering for at least 80 hours per month). In some regions with high unemployment rates or a scarcity of jobs, states are permitted to request waivers from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to remove the three-month time limit.

The administration’s new rule makes it harder for states to obtain a time-limit waiver by narrowing the circumstances and labor market areas in which it can apply. The SNAP program was never intended to function as a work program. But this rule actually undermines the goal of encouraging work; restricting access to food makes it more difficult for people to find and sustain employment. The USDA has announced that the rule will take effect April 1, 2020.

According to USDA estimates, this change will cause 755,000 able-bodied adults without dependents to lose eligibility in 2020 and reduce the annual amount spent on SNAP benefits by 2.5 percent.

The second change (proposed in July 2019) would restrict states’ abilities to confer broad-based categorical eligibility for SNAP to families receiving another government benefit. Currently, if individuals already qualify for certain means-tested government assistance programs (such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), states have the option to confer SNAP eligibility automatically, without duplicative asset and income tests. States also have the ability to increase income qualification levels (up to 200 percent of poverty) and forgo asset tests.

The administration’s proposed change restricts flexibility for states to use these streamlined eligibility processes. In a previous blog post, we noted that changes to SNAP’s categorical eligibility clause had the potential to cause 500,000 children to lose automatic eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch Program. That estimate has since increased to 982,000 children. It is still unknown when or if this proposed change would take effect. The USDA estimates that eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility would reduce the total number of households participating in SNAP by 9 percent and lower annual SNAP benefits paid out nationwide by 5 percent.

The third change (proposed in October 2019) would create a uniform national approach to setting standard utility allowances (SUAs). States use SUAs in assessing SNAP eligibility and benefit levels, factoring in such costs as heating and cooling, telephone service, and other utilities to determine an individual’s net income. With these allowances, people with higher utility costs have the potential to receive greater SNAP benefits. Currently, states have flexibility in determining the methods and data used to set SUAs. The proposed change would reduce states’ flexibility to determine SUAs by creating a single national methodology, setting all SUAs at the USDA’s estimate of the 80th percentile for low-income households’ utility costs within the state, based on national survey data.

The proposed change mainly affects SNAP benefit amounts, with little overall effect on eligibility. However, the overall effect on SNAP benefits is mixed. Some households would see a decrease in benefits, while others would receive higher benefits. Among households with children, an estimated 15 percent would see reduced benefits, while 13 percent would see a benefit increase. An estimated 22.0 percent of households with an individual age 60 or older would receive reduced benefits, while 17.5 percent would receive increased benefits. And an estimated 25.0 percent of households that include someone with a disability would see reduced benefits, while 20.7 percent would receive a benefit increase. Overall, the USDA estimates that 19 percent of households would have lower SNAP benefits, while 16 percent would have higher SNAP benefits due to the SUA changes. The date for these changes to take effect has not been released.

The overall effect of these changes will be nothing short of devastating. And that suffering will far surpass any budget "savings" that will result (approx. $8 Billion). And when you compare that with the Defense budget ($738 Billion), these cuts are even more outrageous.

Elections matter.

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