Millions of Americans stand to lose food stamp benefits under a policy proposed by the Trump administration, and new state-level data offers a glimpse of how 3.6 million people would be impacted if this rule goes into effect.
An analysis from policy firm Mathematica suggests 9 percent of households nationwide that currently receive food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, would no longer qualify for those benefits under this proposed rule. But that percentage could be much higher in certain states.
What does the data say?
Established in 1964, SNAP benefits form the nation’s largest federal nutrition safety net program and feeds more than 37 million Americans. Each month, a person enrolled in the program receives $127 on average, or $1.39 per meal, in SNAP benefits, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
On July 24, the Trump administration proposed changing one way states calculate who is eligible to receive SNAP benefits. This policy is called broad-based categorical eligibility, and it was designed to give states further discretion to determine who needs food stamps beyond federal requirements.
Under this proposed rule, people whose gross income is 130 percent above the federal poverty line (slightly more than $16,000 for one person) or have more than $2,250 in assets, will no longer qualify to receive federal food benefits.
That means an estimated 3.6 million Americans would no longer receive food stamps under the new rule. That’s nearly one out of 10 households — or 1.9 million homes — where people currently receive SNAP benefits in 42 states and territories, according to Mathematica’s analysis of the data.
Though states dole out federal food stamp benefits, state-level data wasn’t included in the original federal regulation, said Sarah Lauffer, who served as the lead Mathematica researcher on the project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Mathematica analysis used the same fiscal year 2016 data that the federal government cited in its proposal, Lauffer said.
“It’s a large portion of the SNAP population that will lose benefits,” Lauffer said. “For state actors, it’s really useful for them to go in and see.”
Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, said shortly after the Trump administration proposed the rule that it would make states more accountable.
“States are generally not to be trusted spending someone else’s money,” Rector said. “Never have been.”
If the Trump administration’s proposed rule goes into effect, Delaware, Texas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, Washington, Oregon and Nevada are projected to lose 15 percent or more of their SNAP recipients, according to Mathematica’s latest analysis. All of those states have more generous standards than the federal government’s.
Overall, 11 states do not have expanded eligibility for food stamps, which means that under the new rule, they would not see any changes. Indiana was not included because it implemented broad-based eligibility in fiscal year 2018 — two years after this sample was collected.
The data suggests this policy would hit vulnerable populations like children and the elderly, Lauffer said. Also, nearly 194,000 households that face losing SNAP benefits are home to at least one person living with a disability, and almost 790,000 households receiving those benefits are in poverty.
Why does this data matter?
In 2018, 37.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which means fewer people received SNAP benefits last year than the previous year.
The number of Americans who rely on food stamps has slowly dropped from a peak of 47.6 million people in 2013, said Elaine Waxman, who studies food insecurity as a senior fellow with the Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center.
But Waxman said, despite a decade of improvement, it is too soon for the federal government to cut food stamp benefits.
Research suggests that food stamp benefits reduce food insecurity and help alleviate poverty, freeing up money within the household for other goods, Waxman said.
“In the absence of significant change, if we lose SNAP benefits, we can expect increases in both” food insecurity and poverty, she said.
As many as 500,000 children also could lose eligibility for free school lunch program, Waxman cautioned. That’s because states that automatically enrolled people to receive SNAP benefits, also enrolled children in the household to receive free school lunches.
The public comment period for this proposed rule ends on Sept. 23. So far, nearly 6,600 comments have been received on this proposed rule change.