Twenty-one members of the New York Congressional delegation penned a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue pushing back on a proposed new rule by the Trump administration that, as they said, puts tighter restrictions on the distribution of anti-hunger assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Joining Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY-26) in issuing the letter are Congress members Thomas Suozzi (NY3), Max Rose (NY-11), Joseph Morelle (NY-25), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Gregory Meeks (NY-5), Grace Meng (NY-6), Nydia Velázquez (NY-7), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Kathleen Rice (NY-4), Eliot Engel (NY-16), Paul Tonko (NY-20), José Serrano (NY-15), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Nita Lowey (NY-17), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), Yvette Clarke (NY-9), and Anthony Brindisi (NY-22).
In the letter, the Congress members write, “the rule as proposed will actively discourage families from accepting higher-paying work, building up savings, and achieving self-sufficiency by terminating their SNAP benefits before they may be able to meet their basic food needs. Making the decision between paying the bills or putting food on the table is not a decision that any family should ever have to make in this country. We strongly urge you to withdraw this cruel, misguided proposed rule and spare millions of families the harm it would inevitably cause.”
The proposed rule, issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July, would restrict the flexibility traditionally offered to states that allows them to administer SNAP benefits more efficiently and in a way that better serves each state’s low-income families. If allowed to go into effect, this new policy would kick an estimated 3.1 million off SNAP benefits nationwide, including 87,000 New Yorkers, and would disproportionately harm children and seniors.
SNAP eligibility rules are set at the federal level, but states are given some flexibility. This flexibility, known as broad-based categorical eligibility, has been allowed for years and was most recently included again in the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill approved by Congress and signed into law in December 2018. More than 40 states utilize broad-based categorical eligibility. While the income threshold for SNAP benefits is normally 130% of the federal poverty level, under broad-based categorical eligibility in New York state households earing up to 150% of the federal poverty level – with no dependent care expenses – and households up to 200% – with dependent care expenses – may qualify for SNAP.
In New York, this translates approximately to individuals earning less than $18,300 annually, and families of four with a household income less than $37,700 as eligible recipients of SNAP food benefits. This flexibility encourages low-income families to achieve financial sustainability and recognizes cost factors such as child care, while still ensuring families don’t go hungry by phasing out their SNAP benefits more gradually.
According to USDA data, in fiscal year 2017, SNAP provided food security to 42.1 million people living in 20.8 million households across the country. In total, 80% of SNAP households included a child, senior or individual with disabilities.
SNAP participation and costs have decreased over the last several years, from a peak of 47.6 million recipients receiving $79.9 billion in benefits in fiscal year 2013 to 42.1 million recipients and $68 billion in benefits in FY2017. While participation has decreased in total, the percentage of SNAP households with elderly individuals has increased by almost 10% over the past 25 years, from 15% of SNAP households including seniors in 1992 to 24% elderly participation in 2017.
The deadline for the public to weigh in on the proposed rule is Sept. 23.