On Thursday, October 3, 2019, for the third time this year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announces another change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would cut food benefits from households by a total of $4.5 billion over five years. According to the USDA, the proposed rule, SNAP Standardization of Sate Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances, would adjust how states households’ utility costs are calculated by standardizing a uniform national approach for utility dedications costs of a household like rent and utilities.

The Standard Utility Allowances (SUAs) established national eligibility standards for SNAP when the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 was enacted by Congress and allowed states the flexibility of setting their own SUAs to reflect the utility expenses that SNAP households incur. In a statement by Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, she stated that “the proposed change to the Standard Utility Allowance is only the latest in a long list of planned cuts to critical assistance working families count on to provide for their basic necessities and put food on the table. Instead of declaring a war on poverty, this President has declared war on our most vulnerable citizens.”

This standardize rule would be based on national surveys of actual household utility costs in each state, but the problem is that it is challenging to keep track of utility expenses for every single household. An estimated 19 percent of SNAP households will receive lower SNAP monthly benefits if this new proposal establishes a national standard for utility deductions involving calculating the cost of utilities. The change is expected to take food stamps from more than 8,000 families and reduce payments for one in five struggling households on nutrition assistance. The cuts would be impacted mostly in northern states due to the change in the way heating costs are calculated. The population of individuals that will be disproportionately impacted would be elderly people and people with disabilities.

SNAP lifted more than three million people out of poverty in 2018, including 1.3 million children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau annual poverty data, and is an essential program in helping put food on the table for millions of families. House Agriculture Committee members led a social media campaign on twitter, #WarOnWorkingFamilies, this week stating that “President Trump is trying to cut benefits for almost 20% of SNAP recipients by recalculating how states assess and deliver utility assistance as part of his #WarOnWorkingFamilies.”

This is the third attempt by the Trump Administration to cut food stamps from families. In December 2019, USDA proposed to place work requirements on SNAP recipients, and in July, the Administration proposed a rule to kick more than three million people off food stamps, including eliminating free school lunches for thousands of children. The public comment periods for both proposals have ended, and final rules are expected soon.

The public comment period is open until December 2, 2019. CWLA opposes the rule and encourages members to submit comments against it. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is leading a comment campaign encouraging organizations and individuals to write in opposition to the proposal. To access FRAC’s comment campaign, click here.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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