The Trump administration recently sidestepped Congress and issued a proposed rule that would cut SNAP benefits by limiting the “broad-based categorical eligibility” (BBCE) option. In an effort to support many low-income families who have difficulty making ends meet, the two-decade old BBCE policy currently allows states to raise SNAP income eligibility limits slightly and enroll families in food stamps if they have applied for other benefits for low-income people. By limiting this option, more than 3 million people would lose food assistance and more than 500,000 children would lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals.
The Administration is presenting this proposal as an effort to crack down on people “gaming the system.” However, the idea that states approve benefits under the categorical eligibility option without assessing income or need is inaccurate. All households must still apply, be interviewed and document their monthly income and expenses in order to receive SNAP benefits, so the perception that SNAP benefits are wrongly going to families with higher incomes is based primarily on anecdotes rather than evidence. A 2012 Government Accountability Office report found that only around 2.6 percent of 2010 benefit recipients had incomes above the eligibility limit (most of whom still had very low incomes) and more recent data from the Department of Agriculture found that only around 0.2 percent of 2017 benefit recipients had disposable incomes above the poverty line.
Rather than limiting the misuse of the SNAP benefits, this proposed rule will harm families in need, including children that rely on school lunches, individuals that work longer hours, families that must take on high child care costs in order to work and seniors and people with disabilities who attempt to save small amounts for emergencies, and children that rely on school lunches. We must work to expand access to food assistance rather than taking food from the tables of working families and making it even harder for children to access healthy school meals.
CDF will submit formal comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in opposition to this proposal and we encourage you to as well. Individuals and organizations can learn more about ways to take action here.