A proposal that would result in almost 400,000 Texans losing food stamp benefits has sparked criticism it would remove vulnerable people, including many children and the elderly, from eligibility for a social service upon which they depend to make ends meet.
The public comment phase for the proposal closed with more than 75,000 comments, including mayors, governors and congressional delegations weighing in, according to The New York Times. If the new rule becomes effective, more than 1.9 million American homes and 3.6 million people would no longer qualify for the program — approximately 9 percent of the 21.5 million homes that rely on food stamps.
Trump administration officials say the change will close a loophole allowing ineligible Americans to access food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the official name for food stamps, estimates taxpayers will save more than $9 billion over five years.
The change could have a pronounced effect in Texas, which ranks ninth nationally as far as overall impact to SNAP households. According to our story, about 15 percent of families currently receiving assistance would lose it compared to 9 percent nationally. Within those numbers are some even more important: approximately 217,000 children, 114,000 elderly and 16,000 people with disabilities would lose their benefits.
For children, the change could bring about a double-whammy. Being a food stamp recipient automatically qualifies them for the free and reduced-price school lunch program, which means conceivably they could miss meals at home and at school.
USDA officials say they are working to keep those with higher incomes and assets to obtain unnecessary federal assistance. They have not announced a timeline for when policy changes would be announced. Certainly, in a program this large there will be fraud and those looking to work the system, but the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients are people largely dependent on a safety net of social services.
According to our story earlier this week, the changes in policy would affect an estimated Texas 233,195 households and 389,342 people, about 15 percent of the almost 1.6 million who received benefits in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
As our story pointed out, the food stamp program is administered by states under federal guidelines. Currently, states have the option to use broad-based categorical eligibility to allow those receiving welfare, disability, Social Security and other benefits to automatically qualify for food stamps. The proposed change would end that practice.
Taking aim at the food stamp program and rooting out those defrauding the system is part of governmental due diligence and an expectation of taxpayers, who underwrite these programs. However, opting to take a broad swipe at the program will no doubt have numerous unintended consequences on Texans who have no margin in their lives for such an outcome.
We hope the USDA will take heed of the overwhelmingly negative public comments about this proposed change and move prudently with regard to altering eligibility requirements for food stamp recipients. This is not the first concerted effort to prune food stamp recipient rolls, only the most recent. But this is work that should be done with an abundance of caution.
Slow and steady not only wins the race, but it also often is the best way to ensure no harm is inflicted to those who can least stand the pain.