AUSTIN, Texas — The Trump administration is considering implementing a new rule that would kick an estimated 3.1 million Americans off SNAP, the food stamp program.
Currently, the federal government sets base requirements – or the "floor" – for eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and each state sets the "ceiling" – or limits – and distributes the aid.
Texas Health and Human Services and other states sometimes distribute aid based on "categorical eligibility," which means if people already qualify for similar aid programs, they can also get food stamps. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees SNAP, this is a loophole they want to close.
In a document explaining the proposed rule change, the USDA stated some people get very little and even non-cash forms of other aid but are still eligible for food stamps. A USDA press release stated closing the loophole "gives USDA the ability to save billions of dollars, ensuring nutrition assistance programs are delivered with consistency and integrity to those most in need."
In Texas, a family is eligible for food stamps if their income is up to 165% of the poverty line. The USDA would change that to 130%. The new rule would also decrease how much a family can have in assets to be eligible for food stamps. Perhaps the most significant difference is Texas allows residents to have a vehicle worth up to $15,000 and still get SNAP benefits. The federal government wants to decrease that to $4,650.
"I think that's huge in a state where public transportation is just not a reality for most people, even in Austin," said Rachel Cooper, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities. "Most people still have to drive to get to work, and you have to work to stay on SNAP. You have to work at least 30 hours a week to keep your benefits. But if you can't have a car that's worth more than $4,650, you're going to get stranded on the side of the road."
Cooper said the USDA estimates 300,000 Texans could lose aid, but that's without calculating the vehicle allowance.
Cooper also pointed out the new rule could also have big impacts on the Austin Independent School District. Children on SNAP automatically get free school meals and if half of the students on campus get free meals, the district can feed all the children at that school for free. Cooper said that benefit could be lost if families are kicked off the program.
The USDA is accepting online public comments on the proposed change until Sept. 23. After reviewing those comments, agency leaders will make a decision on whether to move forward with the change.
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