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September 25, 2019

Proposed Change Could See Thousands of Marylanders Losing Supplemental Benefits

SEABROOK — Maryland members of Congress wrote a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) opposing a proposed change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) where 50,000 Marylanders would be at risk for losing their SNAP benefits.

According to the USDA, the proposed rule would close a loophole, known as categorical eligibility, where participants who receive minimal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are automatically eligible to participate in the SNAP program. Maryland is one of 40 states that uses categorical eligibility.

The change would close the loophole that has “expanded SNAP recipients in some states to include people who receive assistance when they clearly don’t need it,” the USDA said.

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

“The American people expect their government to be fair, efficient and to have integrity – just as they do in their own homes, businesses and communities. That is why we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.”

However, Congressman Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, and Congressmen Elijah E. Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and David Trone (all D-MD) disputed the claim that the change would benefit the state in a letter addressed to Perdue.

“Categorical eligibility provides states with the flexibility to use less restrictive income and asset tests in SNAP, which allows them to better support low-income working families and improve state administration while lowering administrative costs,” they said. “We are alarmed that an estimated 50,000 Marylanders could stand to lose SNAP benefits if this rule is implemented.”

The Congressional Delegation went on to add that the current categorical eligibility option has been thoroughly vetted for more than 20 years. Congress has rejected past iterations of the policies included in this proposed rule in the past, they said, and therefore this proposed rule is “a clear attempt to circumvent Congressional intent through the regulatory process.”

Finally, the proposed rule will increase government administrative spending by over $2.3 billion annually, they said.

The USDA, in their announcement of the new rule, called the current categorical eligibility a waste of taxpayer money because of its flexibility. The new proposal will allow the USDA the ability to save billions of dollars and ensure that nutrition assistance programs are delivered with consistency and integrity to those in need.

Currently, households in which all family members receive or are authorized to receive Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) are categorically eligible.

Under the new rule, categorical eligibility would be stricter as households must receive TANF-funded cash or non-cash benefits valued at $50 per month at a minimum and for at least six months.

Additionally, the non-cash benefits that could convey automatic eligibility would be restricted to subsidized employment, work supportsor childcare.

Michael J. Wilson, who serves as the director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, an initiative of the Food Research & Action Center that aims to end hunger and improve the nutrition, health and well-being in Maryland, said the proposed rule would do more harm than good.

“The proposed rule would cut off SNAP benefits for many people in need and take away free school meals for children in those households,” Wilson said. “At the same time, gutting this streamlining option would mean increased government spending on processing and red tape.

“On the national level, USDA estimates the proposed rule will cut five-year spending on SNAP benefits to households in need by more than $10 billion, but increase government administrative costs by over $2.3 billion.”

In Prince George’s County alone, 10.9% of the county’s population was receiving food stamps or SNAP benefits in 2017, according to the Prince George’s County 2017 Health Report. In Maryland as a whole, 11.2% of the population was receiving those benefits. Additionally, the report found that 9.3% of people in Prince George’s County lived below the poverty line.

Wilson went on to say that there is no doubt that the enactment of this rule would take away food from thousands of Marylanders and called the proposal “another example of the Trump administration sidestepping Congress through unnecessary and harmful regulatory changes.”

“Unfortunately, it is Maryland’s most vulnerable residents, including children, seniors and people with disabilities, who would suffer the painful consequences of unnecessary and preventable hunger,” the Congressional Delegation concluded their letter. “On behalf of our constituents, we strongly urge you to rescind this proposed rule.”