This blog post is written by Adam Morgan, Advocacy Coordinator, at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
For the third time this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed a rule change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would cut benefits by billions of dollars.
This proposed rule change would create even more challenges for SNAP households, while they are simply trying to make ends meet. Currently, state governments determine average utility costs in their state and adjust SNAP benefits accordingly. The USDA wants to apply a broader assessment of a household’s utility expenses when determining SNAP eligibility. This rule change would impose caps on each utility expense, meaning each household would receive the same deduction, whether it is a household of one or 10 people. This rule change would eliminate states’ flexibility, impose caps on each utility expense, and cut monthly SNAP benefits for many households.
Since Pennsylvania’s rates are set above the proposed federal level, this will mean a significant cut in SNAP benefits in our area. Households in Pennsylvania would receive, on average, 40 dollars less in SNAP benefits each month.
The USDA is soliciting comments on the effects of this rule change. If you agree that this change is harmful, you can submit your comment here and tell the USDA how important SNAP is to you and your community. The deadline for submitting comments is December 2, 2019. Read more about the details behind this rule change proposal below.
Often our neighbors are forced to make hard decisions every day with the money that they have, choosing between medical expenses, housing and transportation costs, utility bills, household essentials, and food. Sometimes parents are forced to skip meals so their children can eat. No one should have to make these impossible choices.
SNAP – previously known as food stamps – is a federal nutrition program that helps individuals and families stretch their monthly food budget. Oftentimes, SNAP serves as the first line of defense for families struggling with hunger.
The Food Bank works to connect families to SNAP by assisting with SNAP applications. The Food Bank’s Government Affairs staff and volunteers also advocate to our elected officials about the importance of SNAP in our community.
Currently, SNAP eligibility is determined by net income. Net income is determined by subtracting certain deductions from a household’s gross monthly income. One of these deductions is excess shelter expense. Shelter expenses include the basic cost of housing and utility costs. Most states establish Standard Utility Allowances (SUAs) to use as a standard deduction instead of collecting utility bills from every SNAP applicant. Using these SUAs means an easier process for applicants and state agencies, while reducing administrative costs.
Proposed Rule Change
USDA wants to eliminate the states’ ability to set their own SUAs by putting a cap on each of these deductions. Every state has different characteristics that make them unique: infrastructure, weather, people, cost-of-living, geography, and so many more. All of these varying characteristics contribute to the average consumption of energy within a state. States should be able to look at the unique characteristics of their state and the average cost of monthly utility bills and then set their SUAs appropriately. This rule change would no longer allow them to do that. The federal government would set these SUAs with little input from the states.
This proposed rule change would have devastating effects on SNAP households, especially in Pennsylvania. Nationally, SNAP benefits would be cut by nearly $1 billion per year and more than 19 percent of all SNAP households would see a decrease in benefits, which comes out to about seven million people in Pennsylvania. SNAP benefits would be cut by $240 million per year in Pennsylvania and more than 52 percent of all SNAP households would see an average decrease of about $40 per month in their benefits.
This rule change would disproportionately affect the very groups of people that SNAP should be focusing its benefits on. Households with elderly members and households with disabled members currently have larger shelter expenses and larger deductions, on average. This means they have more to lose from the proposed capped deductions. Seniors facing hunger are significantly more likely to suffer from poor health as senior food insecurity continues to rise.
Households with children and working families will also be affected by this rule change, potentially resulting in a loss of benefits for many people. Without proper nutrition, children could face developmental delays, missed days in school and behavioral problems. SNAP has a history of rewarding working families receiving nutrition assistance. During the application process, SNAP also uses an earned income deduction that results in a slight increase to their SNAP benefits. This is used in order to maintain eligibility for those in need, while also encouraging a path to self-sufficiency through employment. This rule change would disproportionately harm these working families by reducing their monthly SNAP benefits.
What You Can Do
When the administration proposes a rule change, a legally required public comment period is opened. The administration is required to review and consider every single unique comment submitted to them. If you oppose this rule change that would cut SNAP benefits by billions of dollars, make your voice heard and submit comments to the USDA. Follow this link for additional information about the rule change. You can submit a comment on this rule change through Feeding America here.