Food stamp change could hit 30,000 North Carolinians

Can food stamps cover the costs of a healthy diet

Maya McDowell of Raleigh, mother of two, said food stamps purchased two to three weeks of food for her family.
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Maya McDowell of Raleigh, mother of two, said food stamps purchased two to three weeks of food for her family.

The Trump administration has revealed yet another attempt to take away food assistance benefits from nearly 30,000 North Carolinians. This new proposal, coming from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), would force some states to decrease eligibility standards for food stamps. Food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a vital federal program that reduces hunger and lifts people out of poverty.

Under current regulations, states can use broad-based categorical eligibility standards to enroll people in SNAP. This means that states do not have to ask questions about about applicants’ assets, such as how many cars they own or how much money is in their bank account, if they already qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Broad-based categorial eligibility decreases administrative costs and cuts unnecessary paperwork for struggling families so they can keep their benefits while trying to save money to overcome financial instability.

The new rule would restrict people who get “substantial and ongoing” TANF amounts from qualifying for broad-based categorical eligibility. Currently, 43 states, both Democratic and Republican-governed (including North Carolina) allow for broad-based categorical eligibility. Chipping away at the broad-based categorial eligibility limits were part of the House version of the Farm Bill last year, but Congress dropped them prior to the bill’s passage in December 2018.

This is the third attempt this year that the Trump Administration has tried to chip away at struggling families’ access to SNAP: the first was through tightening work requirements for SNAP recipients and the second was trying to change the way the federal government calculates the poverty level threshold. If the third times a charm, will it impose harm on the 30,000 North Carolinians that receive SNAP benefits through broad-based eligibility?

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue said, “Recently a millionaire living in Minnesota successfully enrolled in the program simply to highlight the waste of taxpayer money.” He went on to comment, “Our fix restores confidence in eligibility for SNAP, is consistent from state-to-state, contains costs, and better aligns SNAP with other means-tested programs nationwide. This proposal will not only save money, but more importantly it preserves the integrity of the program while ensuring nutrition-assistance programs serves those most in need.”

As a researcher who focuses on policies that impact low-income families, justifying a policy change based on one example is not only risky, but neglects to consider all program participants’ experiences. Does this one instance justify removing 3 million Americans and nearly 30,000 North Carolinians from the SNAP program? Additionally, the USDA announced last week that $5.1 million would go towards investigating and preventing SNAP fraud. Why is a policy is being proposed when data regarding SNAP fraud hasn’t even been collected and evaluated? Where is the scientific integrity in that logic?

The USDA’s proposal does not require approval from Congress, since they are trying to push it through as a regulation change. Federal agencies are required to publish proposed rules in the Federal Register, a publicly available database. Any person, organization, group, or coalition may submit a public comment expressing their views on a proposed rule. When federal agencies finalize their rule, the publish a report that discusses how they addressed issues brought up in the public comments. The public will get two months to comment on the USDA’s proposed rule on broad-based categorical eligibility.

“Lindsey Haynes-Maslow is an Assistant Professor at NC State University and the Co-Leader of the North Carolina Chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network.”