By Nancy Vu, Staff Reporter
A proposed rule by the Trump administration could eliminate about 500,000 students’ access to free and reduced price meals (FARM) by restricting eligibility to another governmental assistance initiative, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Back in July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) amended Section 5(a) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, which allows for households that are eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to be categorically eligible for SNAP, or food stamps. Now, the USDA is proposing changes that restricts participants from being automatically qualified for food stamps when they are already receiving federal and state assistance.
“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “The American people expect their government to be fair, efficient, and to have integrity – just as they do in their own homes, businesses, and communities. That is why we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.”
These newly-proposed restrictions include requiring households to have a TANF benefit valued at a minimum of $50 per month, for at least six months. For non-cash TANF participants to qualify for categorical eligibility, they would be limited to specific benefits—subsidized employment, work supports, and/or childcare— that support family self-sufficiency and promote work.
This proposed rule would cut benefits from an estimated 3 million people with SNAP, and would have a trickle-down-effect to children’s eligibility for free or reduced lunch at schools, in which eligibility for SNAP is one of the requirements for FARM.
According to a press release published by the USDA, the exploitation of this loophole has gotten so “egregious” that a millionaire in Minnesota was able to successfully receive benefits, just to highlight how the system can easily waste money.
The new proposed rules would prohibit states from expanding eligibility beyond the federal baseline of 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $33,475 for a family of four. Under federal law, anyone who earns less than this is eligible for SNAP benefits. However, 39 states have expanded eligibility to include those that make more than this baseline. According to a study done by Mathematica, 1 in 10 households would lose their benefits, and 75 percent of these households live in poverty.
According to the USDA, six million children lived in food-insecure households, with disproportionate rates being seen in households with incomes 185 percent below the poverty line (12 percent), households run by a single woman (9.4 percent), Non-Hispanic Black households (9.1 percent) and Hispanic households (5.1 percent).
The comment period regarding this legislation closed in September, making the proposal close to becoming enacted. Students that are currently eligible can still continue to receive benefits, but their status would be reviewed for the next school year. However, students can qualify under other criteria by being eligible for other government assistance programs such as TANF, or having a gross income within the boundaries of the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines.
According to the Washington Post, a letter from Democrats on the House Committee on Education and Labor was sent to Purdue, not only protesting the proposal, but expressing concern for not publicizing the impact of this proposal on students during the comment period, which could influence interest groups weighing in on the legislation.
“Both the SNAP and school meals programs are critical in combating food insecurity among children, ensuring children are fed nutritiously in school, during the summer and in other care settings,” Democrats wrote. “By undermining access to these essential programs, the proposed rule would worsen child food insecurity, with detrimental effects on children’s academic outcomes, health and more.”
Brooke Hardison, a representative from the agriculture department, told the Washington Post that the figure was not published because the department only included the direct impact on SNAP.
“Since the proposal does not make changes to child nutrition program policy or regulations, information regarding children who are directly certified to receive free school meals was not prepared for, or included in, the analysis developed for this SNAP rule,” Hardison said.