The United States Department of Agriculture plan to eliminate broad-based categorical eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is drawing tons of comments and criticism.
With the comment period closed on Nov. 1, more than 168,000 weighed in on the plan at regulations.gov,
The agency’s technical description of the proposed rule is this:
Section 5(a) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, as amended, provides that households in which each member receives benefits under a state program funded under part A of Title IV of the Social Security Act (SSA) (also known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants) shall be categorically eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Currently, SNAP regulations broadly interpret “benefits” to mean cash assistance and non-cash or in-kind benefits or services from any TANF –funded program.
In operation, this has allowed categorical eligibility for SNAP to be conferred on households based on receipt of minimal benefits issued by TANF-funded programs which may not conduct a robust eligibility determination and do not meaningfully move families toward self-sufficiency. The Food and Nutrition Act has clear parameters regarding the income and resource limits that SNAP households must meet, and categorical eligibility is intended to apply only when the conferring program has properly determined eligibility. Extending categorical eligibility to participants who have not been screened for eligibility compromises program integrity and reduces public confidence that benefits are being provided to eligible households.
Therefore, the Department proposes updating the regulations to refine categorical eligibility requirements based on receipt of TANF benefits. Specifically, the Department proposes: (1) to define “benefits” for categorical eligibility to mean ongoing and substantial benefits; and (2) to limit the types of non-cash TANF benefits conferring categorical eligibility to those that focus on subsidized employment, work supports and childcare. The proposed rule would also require state agencies to inform FNS of all non-cash TANF benefits that confer categorical eligibility.
The proposed revisions would create a clearer and more consistent nationwide policy that ensures categorical eligibility is extended only to households that have sufficiently demonstrated eligibility by qualifying for ongoing and substantial benefits from TANF-funded programs designed to assist households and move them towards self-sufficiency. In addition, the revisions would help ensure that receipt of nominal, one-time benefits or services do not confer categorical eligibility and would address program integrity issues that have surfaced since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 changed the programs whose benefits confer categorical eligibility. The Department believes these revisions will maintain categorical eligibility’s dual purpose of streamlining program administration while ensuring that SNAP benefits are targeted to the appropriate households.
I don’t see any industry associations getting involved with this debate, but liberal lawmakers are fully engaged. Here is a release from one that landed in my inbox:
WASHINGTON – Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11) joined the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in sending a letter today to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue regarding the Department’s proposed rule to eliminate broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and its adverse impact on access to school meals for nearly 1 million school-age children.
“It is alarming that USDA continues to move forward with its SNAP proposal even after releasing data that shows it would cause nearly 1 million students to lose automatic access to free school meals,” said Rep. Fudge. “As the late Congressman Cummings frequently said, ‘Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see.’ What kind of message are we sending by limiting access to programs essential to student health and success? I join with the Congressional Black Caucus in calling on Secretary Perdue to rescind this cruel proposal immediately.”
“It is unfathomable that as Americans are preparing for the holiday season and Thanksgiving, President Donald Trump’s Administration is considering a proposal to reduce one million hungry children from receiving access to free school meals,” said Rep. Karen Bass, Chair of the CBC. “SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity for low-income families and children. As the ‘Conscious of the Congress,’ the CBC calls on the Trump Administration to immediately withdraw the proposal.”
According to USDA estimates, over 3 million people, including seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities, and working families with children, would be kicked off SNAP under the proposed rule. Nearly 1 million children in affected SNAP households would lose automatic eligibility for free school meals.
We have already lost too much under this Administration, and the Congressional Black Caucus stands ready and willing to protect our nation’s most vulnerable population: our children.
More than 300 comments on the proposal at regulations.gov included the search word “fruit.” Here are a few:
From a Feeding America-associated comment:
I am writing to oppose the proposed rule that guts the Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility option in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The proposal would take away school meals from children, hurt seniors and families who save for the future, and punish workers for getting a raise.
We should not punish children trying to thrive in the classroom or penalize people who work hard to take care of their families. My small SNAP benefit plus a food bank keep me from starvation from the 20th of every month until I get paid on the 3rd of the next month.
I routinely only buy fruits and veggies on sale foe 99 cents per pound. Nothing is cheaper than that. I cannot afford organic produce. I need this kind of food as I am diabetic and my diet is mostly fruits and veggies and I must home cook everything so my meals are perfectly coordinated. I am careful with my money and my diet. I just cannot make ends meet on Social Security and a $165/month pension.
From the Anthony L. Jordan Health Corporation:
The Anthony L. Jordan Health Corporation (Jordan Health) is a federally-qualified health center providing preventive and primary care to 27,000 low-income residents of Rochester, NY. We strongly oppose the USDAs proposed rule (RIN 0584-AE62) revising the Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) requirements of the SNAP program.
On a daily basis, Jordan Healths clinical staff attend to patients with illnesses associated with poor nutrition. A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Dietary factors were estimated to be associated with a substantial proportion of deaths from heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. These results should help identify priorities, guide public health planning and inform strategies to alter dietary habits and improve health. [JAMA 2017: 317(9): 912-924]. USDAs proposed rule flies in the face of this recommendation, creating additional financial barriers to low-income families in maintaining a healthy diet.
Ninety-seven per cent of Jordan Health patients live below 200% of the federal poverty level. As a result of limited resources, our patients face multiple challenges to maintaining health and wellness. They carry a disproportionate share of the communitys disease burden. For example, throughout the Jordan Health service area, every census tract with a high percentage of poverty also has a high prevalence of type 2 diabetes.
A healthy diet is a fundamental component of overall health. Any barrier to purchasing healthy foods has a marked impact on health. The proposed rule significantly reduces the number of households eligible for SNAP benefits and penalizes the many employed SNAP recipients by making it more difficult for households to save and to maintain financial stability when their income increases. Even with SNAP benefits many families struggle to purchase the fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins essential to maintaining health, substituting instead less expensive but nutritionally poor foods that contribute to obesity and related chronic conditions. To further jeopardize families ability to purchase food is to further jeopardize their health and well-being and to achieve a modicum of self-reliance.
Moreover, the proposed rule will serve only to add to the relentless, toxic stress that low-income families experience daily. At Jordan Health, we see the health repercussions of this stress which has economic and food insecurity at its root in patients with diabetes, depression, and hypertension. The additional administrative burden and the added financial burden engendered by the proposed rule will only increase stress levels and interfere with patients efforts to make healthful lifestyle changes or even to adhere to treatment plans.
From the standpoint of public health, the proposed rule is short-sighted. Whatever immediate savings that may accrue will most certainly be swallowed in higher health care costs down the road. We can anticipate that among the 3 million people likely to lose SNAP benefits, there will continue to be preventable emergency department and hospital admissions.
Under the guise of good governance and closing loopholes, this misguided proposed rule will do nothing to improve the health and well-being of Jordan Health patients and will create additional barriers to attaining financial stability. Similar proposals have been repeatedly dismissed by Congress. This proposal should also be dismissed by USDA.
From Tracy Arant
SNAP, combined with school breakfast and lunch, helps ensure that children are not hungry and are growing up healthy. Hungry children struggle. The proposed rule should be withdrawn.
SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger for poor families and individuals. The proposed rule would eliminate SNAP benefits for 3.1 million people, take free school meals away from children in these families, and punish people with even small savings. I strongly oppose the proposed rule.
SNAP helps struggling families put food on their tables and schools provide nutritious meals to keep children from hunger and eager to learn. I request that the proposed rule be withdrawn.
The proposed rule would eliminate SNAP benefits for 3.1 million people, and prevent 500,000 children from receiving healthy meals. By USDA’s own estimates, the proposed rule would cut SNAP benefits over five years by $10.543 billion, while increasing SNAP administrative costs by $2.314 billion. The benefit savings and increased administrative costs are not a fair exchange for hungry people. I strongly oppose the proposed rule and request that it be withdrawn.
The proposed rule cuts to SNAP benefits will reduce the economic impact of SNAP in our communities. SNAP spending has relatively large effects on businesses, such as food and beverage manufacturers, packaging manufacturers, grocery stores and food and other wholesalers, and trucking and rail freight industries. Other sectors including health and social services and agriculture are impacted as well. Local farmers’ markets receive revenue from SNAP purchases and many of those markets also participate in incentive programs that provide SNAP shoppers with bonuses for purchasing fruits and vegetables. Support our local communities’ economies by withdrawing the proposed rule.
SNAP connects children from struggling families to much-needed free school meals. Children whose households participate in SNAP are directly certified to receive free school meals. Direct certification helps to ensure that children who need free school meals are certified to receive them, and it reduces administrative work for school districts. The proposed rule should be SNAP plays a critical role in addressing hunger and food insecurity in our community.
The proposed rule would strip states’ options to eliminate SNAP asset tests and use a higher income test to serve more working households that have significant expenses for housing and childcare. I request that the proposed rule be withdrawn. Children’s access to much needed nutrition resources at home through SNAP and at school through free school breakfast and lunch should not be at risk by the proposed rule. Our nation’s children should not be harmed by hunger and malnutrition. I oppose the proposed rule and request that it be withdrawn.
TK: It seems to me there are plenty of reasons to dump the proposed rule, largely related to its impact on struggling families and individuals. The changes would also take money from the SNAP program, a move that would ultimately hurt farmers and retailers. Walking back any government-provided benefit is understandably difficult and this attempt doesn’t seem worth the cost.