Harrisburg, PA – On December 3, 2019, Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller submitted public comment to the Trump Administration opposing its proposal to change how Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits – formerly known as food stamps – are determined. The proposed rule would alter the method Pennsylvania uses to determine the Heating/Cooling Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) for SNAP recipients and could negatively affect approximately 775,000 households in Pennsylvania.
“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. 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,” said Sec. Teresa Miller. “We strongly oppose any and all attacks on SNAP and will continue to fight against any attempt to take the program away from Pennsylvanians who need it.”
When a household is eligible for SNAP, the SUA is considered when determining the monthly benefit because money needed to pay for shelter and utilities is not available to be used to purchase food. The Trump Administration’s rule would use a standard formula to determine each state’s SUA for the entire country, ignoring costs of living and utility rates that vary from state to state. The proposed rule impacts the Northeast states more significantly than the rest of the country due to the information used in the calculation.
In Pennsylvania, each reduction in the SUA of $10 equates to a $2 to $3 reduction in SNAP benefits. If the Heating and Cooling SUA was reduced by $200, for example, most households would see a reduction in SNAP benefits of $40 to $60 per month. This rule as proposed would negatively affect approximately 775,000 households in Pennsylvania, reducing their food budgets and making it more difficult to keep food on the table.
This proposed rule is the latest in a string of proposed changes to SNAP, each of which would hurt Pennsylvanians who rely on the program for food security.
The Trump Administration in July announced a proposal to eliminate Broad Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) for SNAP. BBCE is a policy that gives states, including Pennsylvania, the flexibility to determine appropriate income thresholds and extend SNAP benefits to low-income families and individuals who would otherwise struggle to afford food. With BBCE, a Pennsylvania family of four is eligible for SNAP if they earn no more than about $40,000 a year. If BBCE is eliminated, that family of four’s SNAP eligibility limit will drop from about $40,000 a year to no more than $32,000 a year. For elderly single-person households, the limit would change from approximately $24,000 a year to about $15,000. It also impacts the ability for low-income children to receive free and reduced-price school lunches. Families whose children are eligible for SNAP receive direct certification for eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches. If fewer families qualify for SNAP, those children will not receive direct certification. Additionally, in districts where 40 percent or more children receive free and reduced-price lunches, the school qualifies for the Community Eligibility Provision, which allows schools and school districts in low-income areas to provide free school lunches to the entire school. Reduction in the number of children receiving direct certification may mean entire districts lose their ability to provide lunches for all students.
And in February, the Trump Administration announced proposed changes to SNAP that would limit the ability of states to determine which counties can be waived from work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents, further jeopardizing their access to SNAP. The waived counties are determined based on economic factors like excess labor and higher than average unemployment. The Trump Administration is removing state flexibility to determine which counties should be waived, even though state flexibility, not the federal government’s, should be retained as each state is in the best position to determine the economic environment in the local economies. One of DHS’s top priorities is increasing employment opportunities for the people we serve. Work requirements, however, are a blunt instrument that does not get a person a job and does not address the social, educational, and environmental barriers that keep people in a cycle of poverty. It jeopardizes their access to essential needs without the investment in addressing the factors that hold people back.
“SNAP is the most important anti-hunger program in the country – more than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians rely on it to afford food. It helps people achieve better health by providing nutritious meals and reducing chronic hunger,” said Secretary Miller. “Each of these attacks on SNAP is cruel and mean-spirited. If we truly want to reduce the shared cost of public assistance, we must give people the means to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and this means supporting SNAP.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Erin James – 717-425-7606