Hunger Free Vermont fights proposed changes to national Food Stamp program

By NORA PEACHIN

On July 23, the Trump administration announced a proposal to drastically alter the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Their proposed changes would revoke benefits for 3.1 million Americans and over 13,000 Vermonters.

For 20 years, 43 states including Vermont have employed an option within SNAP called ‘broad-based categorical eligibility.’ The administration is trying to eliminate it with this proposal.

This option makes 3SquaresVT, the Vermont name for SNAP, “even more effective and responsive to the needs of food insecure Vermonters,” according to a news release by non-profit organization Hunger Free Vermont in August. It allows states to expand access to SNAP to more low-income people, by giving states more flexibility with the gross monthly income limit.

In order to be eligible for SNAP, households must fall under the federal limit, which is 130% of the poverty level. With broad-based categorical eligibility, states can raise the limit. “It allows states to really align the income limit with the need in the state,” said Drake Turner, Food Security Advocacy Manager at Hunger Free Vermont. In Vermont, it’s currently set at 185% of the federal poverty level.

 “The federal government says they’re trying to close a loophole, but that’s really misrepresenting what broad based categorical eligibility is,” Turner said.

Hunger Free Vermont explains that the option is “a provision used by our state to help 3SquaresVT reach households that are working and may have slightly higher incomes but significant expenses (such as high housing, medical, and childcare costs).” 

All households are still required to apply to SNAP and meet the same requirements as anyone else in order to receive benefits.

Last December, Congress passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that considered and rejected the change the Trump administration is now attempting to make. So, the administration is trying a different avenue, one which allows them to bypass Congress.

“This proposal is another in a long line of actions by this administration to demonize low-income Americans and keep them from applying for programs that help them and their families get what they need to thrive,” said Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont, in an article published by the organization.

 The broad-based eligibility option “has become a key part of the SNAP program over the last two decades,” Turner said, “so states will have to spend a lot of money to change in accordance with the rule, if it goes into effect.”

 Turner is also concerned about free school meals. The proposed rule would “jeopardize more than 500,000 children’s access to free school breakfast and lunch,” according to the Food Research and Action Center.

Children whose households receive SNAP benefits are automatically eligible for free school meals. If their households lose SNAP benefits, they may lose free school meals because of differing requirements, or have to apply separately for free meals.

 This will also impact community eligibility, which allows high-poverty schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students if at least 40% of their students are certified for free meals without an application. Most students who fall under this category are certified for school meals through SNAP.

“These kids already don’t have enough to eat, and now they’ll be even hungrier. This will impact their ability to grow and learn. Is this how we want to steward the future generation?” asked Jeanne Montross, Executive Director of Middlebury-based nonprofit Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE).

SNAP has been proven to reduce hunger, help bring people out of poverty, and lead to positive short and long-term health, education, and employment outcomes.

“If the Trump Administration was truly concerned about food insecurity, it would be working to increase wages and improve access to housing, health care, and food assistance, instead of repeatedly proposing severe cuts to programs that support low-income Americans,” reads an article on the Hunger Free Vermont website. All in all, $7.5 million in benefits coming into Vermont would be lost per year with the proposed change.

Lily Bradburn, Local Food Access Coordinator at HOPE, is concerned that something as simple as losing SNAP benefits could significantly hurt individuals struggling with poverty, potentially even pushing them towards worse situations than before.

Before the rule can be passed, the Trump administration is required to collect and review public comments about the impact of the proposed change. So, Hunger Free Vermont is fighting it with a campaign to encourage people to submit comments.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture must review every single submission before a final decision is made by the government. There have been collections of public comments that have had substantial impacts in the past, said Turner. “Also, the comments create a record of public opposition,” she added, “so it can be proven that the given decision is going against the will of the people.”

The deadline to submit comments is Sept. 23. More information about the campaign and instructions for submitting comment are available at www.hungerfreevt.org/protect3squaresvt.

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