Trump proposal seeks to crack down on food stamp ‘loophole’

  • In this 2017 file photo, a sign advertises a program that allows food stamp recipients to use their EBT cards to shop at a farmer's market in Topsham, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Residents signing up for food stamps in Minnesota are provided a brochure about domestic violence, but it doesn’t matter if they even read the pamphlet. The mere fact it was made available could allow them to qualify for government food aid if their earnings or savings exceed federal limits.

As odd as that might sound, it’s not actually unusual.

ADVERTISING


Thirty-eight other states also have gotten around federal income or asset limits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by using federal welfare grants to produce materials informing food stamp applicants about other available social services. Illinois, for example, produced a flyer briefly listing 21 services, a website and email address and a telephone number for more information.

The tactic was encouraged by former President Barack Obama’s administration as a way for states to route federal food aid to households that might not otherwise qualify under a strict enforcement of federal guidelines. Now President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing to end the practice — potentially eliminating food stamps for more than 3 million of the nation’s 36 million recipients.

The proposed rule change, outlined this past week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has highlighted the ideological clash between Trump’s attempts to tighten government entitlement programs and efforts in some states to widen the social safety net.

It’s also stirred outrage and uncertainty among some who stand to be affected.

“I think it’s pretty rotten,” said Lisa Vega, a single mother of two teenage boys in suburban Chicago who applied for food stamps last month after losing her job. Because she receives regular support payments from her ex-husband, Vega said her eligibility for food stamps likely hinges on the income eligibility exceptions that Trump’s administration is trying to end.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the proposed rule change is intended to close a “loophole” that states have misused to “effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines.”

Current federal guidelines forbid people who make more than 130 percent of the poverty level from getting food stamps. But many states believe the cap is too restrictive, especially in cities with a high cost of living, prompting them to bypass the limits.

At issue is a federal policy that allows people who receive benefits through other government programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, to automatically qualify for the food aid program known as SNAP. The practice, called categorical eligibility, is intended partly to reduce duplicative paperwork. It has also allowed states to grant food stamps to more people.

In 2009, Obama’s Agriculture Department sent a memo to its regional directors encouraging states to adopt what it termed as “broad-based categorical eligibility” for food stamps by providing applicants with a minimal TANF-funded benefit such as an informational pamphlet or telephone hotline. Among other things, Obama’s administration said the expanded eligibility could help families stung by a weak economy and promote savings.

ADVERTISING


Most states adopted the strategy. Thirty states and the District of Columbia are using income limits higher than the federal standard of $1,316 monthly for an individual or $2,252 for a family of three. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have either waived asset limits entirely or set them above federal thresholds, according to the Agriculture Department.

Under the Trump administration’s proposed rule change, residents in all states would need to be authorized to receive at least $50 a month in TANF benefits for a minimum of six months in order to automatically qualify for food stamps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.