The Trump administration is looking to cut some 3 million people from getting food stamps by tightening the eligibility rules for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). The administration is expected to roll out its plan Tuesday, but in a preview U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the changes aimed to end automatic eligibility based on an individual’s enrollment in other federal and state assistance programs and would mean annual savings of $2.5 billion while ensuring assistance is reserved for those who truly need it.
At the heart of the change to the federal program that serves some 40 million low-income people—or about 12 percent of the total U.S. population—is the effort to put an end to automatic eligibility for residents in 43 states who are made eligible without an assessment of income or assets. “Broad-based categorical eligibility allows states to streamline the food stamps application process for folks who qualify for certain benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program,” CNN reports. “Some 40 states, plus the District of Columbia, use this option, which lets them eliminate the asset test and raise one of the income thresholds… They still must meet the disposable income threshold for the food stamp program, though they can have a higher gross income (before deductions such as child care costs are taken into account).”
Congressional Republicans have deemed this state-level flexibility in determining appropriate eligibility a “loophole” in the system that allows for abuse. Food stamp advocates point out, however, the asset threshold is still very low and the current system allows for states to make allowances for expenses such as child care. “To be eligible for SNAP, a household’s gross income must be below 130 percent of the federal poverty line. In 2019, that works out to $32,640 a year for a family of four,” the Washington Post reports. “Currently, households remain eligible with up to $2,250 in countable assets (such as cash or money in a bank account) or $3,500 in countable assets if at least one member of the household is age 60 or older, or is disabled. These amounts are updated annually.”