Pa. officials voice concern over Trump administration’s planned cuts to SNAP food assistance
The proposed changes would slash federal food assistance to low-income families by $4.5 billion over five years.
By Brett Sholtis/Transforming Health | DECEMBER 3, 2019 | 7:35 PM
(Harrisburg) — Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Teresa Miller joined the more than 88,000 people nationwide who filed public comments on a planned rule change to the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.
As did many others, Miller told the U.S. Department of Agriculture that she opposed the planned change.
“These proposed changes to SNAP will only increase hunger and food insecurity across Pennsylvania and will disproportionately impact working families, people with disabilities, and seniors,” Miller said. “This rule would force families who rely on SNAP to choose between putting food on their table or other necessities such as heating their home or paying for medical costs.”
The planned rule would change the way the government factors home heating and cooling costs into how much money a person receives. In the current system, each state estimates an average home utility cost and provides that estimate to the federal government. With the proposed system, the federal government would estimate that cost for each state.
The move would reduce the $68 billion federal food assistance program by $4.5 billion over five years, the Trump administration has said. Groups that work with people living with food insecurity say it will make things worse for struggling families.
In Pennsylvania, the change would slash those monthly benefits, formerly known as food stamps, for about 775,000 families, Miller said. Most households could expect to see a reduction in benefits between $40 and $60 a month.
It’s the third new planned federal rule change this year that chips away at Pennsylvania’s $2.5 billion dollars in annual food assistance, Miller noted:
In July, the Trump administration announced a plan to eliminate broad based categorical eligibility, which Miller said makes it harder for families to qualify for benefits and may cause some school districts to lose free school lunch programs.
In February, the administration proposed changes to limit county waivers for work requirements for able-bodied adults who applied for benefits.
For people struggling to put food on the table, these cuts would add stress and make food even harder to come by, said Amy Hill, director of advocacy and public policy at the Central Pa. Food Bank.
The food bank provides meals to 135,000 people a month in 27 Pennsylvania counties, Hill said. SNAP provides 10 times as many meals per family each month than the food bank can provide.
Reductions in federal assistance put more strain on food pantries around the state, said Hill’s colleague, agency and outreach services manager Tara Davis.
“Depending on where they’re going and the resources those food pantries have, they just might not be able to meet that additional need,” Davis said.
The American Public Human Services Association and the American Association of SNAP directors also opposed the planned change, saying it will “lead to poorer outcomes for children and families.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the planned rule change “will return integrity and equity to SNAP, while still allowing states to run a streamlined program.
“We’re doing away with the existing patchwork of outdated allowances to modernize SNAP and ensure household benefits are calculated more equitably across the country.”
The department said it was weighing public comments as it decided whether to implement the proposal.