The Trump administration is proposing a rule that would limit Americans’ access to food stamps, reportedly removing more than 3 million people from the federal program. The plan would eliminate automatic enrollment in food stamps for poor families who receive welfare benefits.
The rule would erase what U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called a “loophole” in welfare benefits. Currently, 43 states allow families who qualify for the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, or TANF, to automatically receive food-stamp benefits, a link that the USDA wants to sever. Ending that practice would cut food-stamp spending by $2.5 billion per year, the Reuters news agency reported.
While income limits for TANF programs vary by state, the welfare program typically is restricted to low-income families. For instance, Georgia requires a family of three to earn less than $784 per month, or $9,408 per year, and have less than $1,000 in assets.
Many policy experts say the food-stamp program is one of the nation’s most successful anti-poverty programs. Yet the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers want to scale it back, claiming that many of its beneficiaries don’t need such assistance given the strong economy.
“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” Perdue said in a statement.
Some policy experts decried the proposal, arguing that it will increase food insecurity among poor families and add to states’ administrative costs.
“This rule would disproportionately hurt families with children, seniors, and disabled people,” Ben Olinsky, senior vice president of Policy and Strategy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said in an emailed statement. “The 43 states that use broad-based categorical eligibility would have to change their eligibility rules, modify their computer systems, and retrain staff, placing an undue burden on state governments and making it more difficult for recipients and applicants to navigate the program.”
Fewer people on food stamps
Agriculture Department Acting Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipps said in a conference call that some recipients are getting food stamps if they receive small welfare benefits, even only brochures, Bloomberg reported. The proposal would allow automatic enrollment only if families receive at least $50 per month in welfare benefits for at least six months, the news outlet noted.
The proposed rule comes at a time when overall enrollment is dropping in food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. About 36 million people received food stamp benefits in April (the most recent data available), down from 44 million the previous year. Enrollment in the program rose sharply following the recession, but more families are moving off the benefit as the economy improves.
The proposed rule would require people who receive welfare payments through TANF to apply separately for the food-stamp program. Typically, a family of three must earn less than $2,252 per month, or about $27,000 per year, to qualify for food stamps, according to the USDA.
At the same time, enrollment in the welfare program is also dropping, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Caseloads fell 20% between 2006 and 2017 in 34 states, mostly because some of those states tightened their eligibility requirements such as reducing the amount of time families can receive the benefit, the liberal-leaning think tank noted in a 2018 report.