On Thursday, February 6, 2020, the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, held a hearing entitled A Threat to America’s Children: The Trump Administration’s Proposed Changes to Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Five witnesses gave testimony: Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of the No Kid Hungry Campaign, Zach Pethan, Principal of Jefferson Elementary in Sheboygan, Diane Sullivan, Advocate for Witnesses to Hunger, Tega Toney, Social Studies Teacher in West Virginia, and Sam Adolphsen, Policy Director at the Foundation for Government Accountability.
Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s (D-IL) started the hearing with an opening statement where he spoke to the importance of the SNAP program and told the story of the time his own family received SNAP benefits. He highlighted the economic benefits first when he spoke about how “every dollar of SNAP benefits increases the GDP by $1.73.” He included how SNAP benefits create and support jobs in grocery stores, trucking industries, and on farms. Most importantly, he highlighted how impactful SNAP is for children, noting that nearly 70% of households receiving SNAP benefits have children. He ended his statement with a powerful quote from President Nixon stating, “that hunger and malnutrition persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable.”
Representative Katie Porter (D-FL) questioned Sam Adolphsen, who testified in support of the proposed changes, about how prevalent fraud actually is within the SNAP program. She began by asking him real questions listed on the state of Maine’s application for SNAP benefits. When the witness could not answer all of her questions, she revealed that the questions were actually from the application and spoke to how rigorous the process already is to obtain benefits. She detailed how she had to reveal less information during her orientation to the U.S. House of Representatives than most SNAP applicants have to prove to access benefits.
Many of the witnesses stressed several points about how eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility would make administering SNAP harder and costlier for states, do little to reduce the already minuscule level of fraud present in the program, and ultimately be harmful to children as it would lead to increased levels of food insecurity. Specifically, Zach Pethan and Tega Toney, the two educators on the panel, noted that this proposal specifically would stop automatic enrollment for nearly one million school children who currently qualify for free school lunch through their SNAP benefits. Pethan and Toney spoke to the struggles kids face when they struggle with hunger at school. Toney specifically noted that if the proposed changes are enacted, vulnerable children could lose access to food both at home and in school, ultimately leaving them to fall through the cracks entirely and face crippling hunger and food insecurity.