Proposed Changes to SNAP Would Violate Federal Law; Harm Low-Income Families, Children, Seniors, and the Economy

News Release, Office of the Attorney General of Maryland

BALTIMORE, MD (September 24, 2019) – Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh today joined a coalition of 24 Attorneys General opposing the Trump administration’s proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The proposed changes would take basic food assistance away from more than three million people, disqualify hundreds of thousands of children from free school meals, and punish working families with modest savings.  

The coalition filed a comment letter against a proposed United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule, the “Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” that would end states’ ability to set rules for SNAP eligibility based on the unique needs of their communities.  

The SNAP program is the country’s most important anti-hunger program.  The program provides people with limited incomes the opportunity to access nutritious food and is a crucial component of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty.  In their letter, the attorneys general argue that the proposed rule would violate federal law and harm the states, their residents, their local economies, and public health.

“This Trump Administration action will cause millions to go hungry,” said Attorney General Frosh.  “SNAP lifts people out of poverty.  It reduces food insecurity and malnutrition.  Each state must have the ability to feed its children, it’s elderly, and it’s poor.  That is why we will fight these heartless policies.”

Based on federal guidelines, each state designs its own process for how low-income people can apply for SNAP benefits.  The states must track whether participants meet the income and asset requirements for the program on a monthly basis.  The Trump administration’s proposed rule would eliminate a long-standing policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility” (BBCE). BBCE allows states to consider local economic factors, like high costs of living or costs of childcare, when determining eligibility for SNAP.  It also lets states adopt less restrictive asset limits so that families, seniors, and people with disabilities can have some savings without losing food aid.  BBCE is used by 39 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

This proposed rule is the latest in a series of unlawful attempts by the Trump administration to cut important safety-net programs for vulnerable populations. In the comment letter, the attorneys general argue that the proposed rule harms the states by:

  • Taking food assistance away from 3.1 million vulnerable people:  If finalized, the proposed rule would cause 3.1 million low-income people, including working poor families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities, to lose critical nutrition assistance.  According to the administration’s own calculations, the rule would cause low-income Americans to lose at least $10.5 billion in SNAP benefits over four years. 
  • Causing 265,000 children to lose free school meals:  Children in households that receive SNAP are eligible for free meals at school.  This rule change would mean an estimated 265,000 children would lose access to free school meals, leading to food insecurity and malnourishment.  According to studies, food-insecure children are more likely to have learning difficulties and reduced academic performance, stomachaches, frequent headaches and colds, iron deficiency anemia, asthma, and mental health problems.
  • Disproportionately taking SNAP benefits from seniors:  According to estimates, this rule change would have a disproportionate impact on seniors.  More than 13 percent of all SNAP households with elderly members would lose food assistance, which could potentially force low-income seniors to choose between paying for necessary medication and food.
  • Harming public health and increasing health care costs:  States’ medical, disability, and other systems will be burdened when people who lose SNAP benefits become food insecure or malnourished.  Food insecurity is linked to some of the most potentially costly health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and complications in pregnancy.  Studies have shown that SNAP is associated with better health and, correspondingly, reduced health care costs.
  • Harming state economies:  SNAP benefits are provided to low-income individuals with immediate spending needs, and SNAP boosts local economies by increasing consumer demand, injecting money directly into the economy, creating jobs, and supporting national and local retailers and the food industry generally.  If 3.1 million people lose SNAP benefits, these cuts will have negative ripple effects across the nation’s economy.
  • Increasing administrative burdens on states:  The Government Accountability Office has consistently found that polices like BBCE can save state and federal resources and improve productivity.  The proposed rule will eliminate these efficiency gains and increase administrative costs—and every dollar that states spend on administrative costs is money taken away from needy families.

The attorneys general also argue that the proposed rule violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which governs how federal agencies implement rule changes.  Among other violations of the APA, the proposed rule fails to provide a legitimate justification for changing longstanding USDA policy, conflicts with the clear intent of Congress and exceeds USDA’s authority. 

In addition to Maryland, the letter was signed by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...