In the United States, 1 in 8 households are food insecure.1 Food insecurity is defined as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.”2 Currently, 41 million Americans, including 13 million children, face food insecurity.1 To help address their need for food, 20.1 million households received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, in 2018.3
SNAP benefits are funded by the federal government to give nutritional support to low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities who cannot afford groceries on top of their other living expenses. If eligible to receive food benefits, the average SNAP recipient in a one-person household receives about $127 a month issued directly onto an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card.4 To be eligible to receive these benefits, the gross monthly income must be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), which is a figure adjusted every year and used as a benchmark to determine eligibility for most means-tested federal assistance programs. For example, a family of three must earn less than $2,253 a month or $27,021 a year.4 Assets are also considered when determining eligibility for SNAP benefits. For instance, the asset limit is $2,250 for a household without an elderly or disabled member and $3,500 with an elderly or disabled member.4
Another factor that determines a recipient’s SNAP eligibility is through a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF provides financial assistance and support programs to low-income families with the ultimate goal of leading these families to financial independence. SNAP eligibility is currently tied into TANF benefits, meaning that if a person or family qualifies to receive financial assistance from TANF, then they are categorically eligible to receive SNAP benefits.
Recently, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a rule change to “untie” the eligibility of SNAP benefits from TANF benefits and require people or families to receive “substantial” benefits of at least $50 a month for an “ongoing” period of six months to be considered eligible for SNAP.5 The department would like the application process to be separate from TANF because they believe there is a gap in the system which allows SNAP benefits to be given to those who are not eligible to receive them.
Making people apply for SNAP separately and enforcing “ongoing” and “substantial” benefits will cause about 3 million people to lose their food stamp benefits, including children.6 If this proposal passes, some 265,000 children who currently receive free lunches at school will have to apply for the SNAP program separately and are at risk of going hungry if their parents have difficulty navigating the system to apply for SNAP.6 Instead of pulling families out of poverty, this may force millions of Americans to go deeper into poverty, worsen food insecurity for the most vulnerable population, and drive financial independence in the opposite direction.
The Trump Administration is allowing 60 days for the public to comment on this proposal. The comment period is open until September 23, 2019. If you would like to voice your opinion, please click here.
Kaitlin Brehaut, MPH, CHES
Kaitlin Brehaut serves as IHPL’s Health Policy Assistant, providing administrative, programmatic and research support to the Institute team. Ms. Brehaut completed her undergraduate education in Health Science with a concentration in Health Care Management at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). She then received her Master of Public Health degree at CSUSB. She is also certified as a Health Education Specialist.
For more information, contact Kaitlin at: email@example.com