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October 05, 2019

Maryland delegation asks USDA to reconsider SNAP changes

Credit: The Sentinel, Kathleen Stubbs

GAITHERSBURG – Members of the Maryland Congressional delegation recently attempted to put a stop to a risk of thousands of Marylanders and millions of U.S. residents not receiving benefits for their families. 

The delegation on Sept. 17 wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue in opposition to his proposed rule change, which would affect how people qualify for the supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps. 

United States Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, and U.S Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, John Sarbanes, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin, David Trone, Elijah E. Cummings and Dutch Ruppersberger (all D-MD), wrote that their concerns about the implications the proposed rule could have on residents. 

They wrote that many of the people who use SNAP are either people with disabilities, children or elderly and asked Perdue to reconsider the proposed rule change. 

“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,” wrote the delegation. “On behalf of our constituents, we strongly urge you to rescind this proposed rule.” 

The Trump Administration announced a proposed rule change on July 23, which would prevent people from categorically being eligible to receive assistance through SNAP. In announcing the proposed change, Perdue called the categorical qualification for SNAP a loophole and said that states through categorical qualification are inconsistently enforcing requirements. 

People who receive benefits through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) would no longer automatically qualify for SNAP, under the proposed change. 

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” said Perdue on July 23. “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 (proposing) 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.”

Maryland is one of 40 states that use categorical eligibility to determine who would qualify. The proposed rule would change how the system would work and who could receive the benefits; it would also increase administrative costs for the state of Maryland.  

“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,” the delegation wrote. 

According to Maryland Hunger Solutions, based in Baltimore, 74,421 Montgomery County residents used Food Stamps in 2015, a 5.1 percent increase from the 70,835 who used the program in 2014. 

Deidre McCabe, communications director for the Maryland Department of Health, said on Sept. 24 that the department did not have an estimate of how many Montgomery County residents might no longer qualify for SNAP if the proposed changes are finalized. 

“MDH program experts generally refrain from speculative comment on proposed changes,” McCabe said. “However, they can evaluate the impact of changes/amendments/new initiatives once they are made.” 

The Maryland delegation, however, wrote that among Maryland residents, approximately 50,000 could lose access to SNAP under the proposed rule. 

Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, said he was grateful for the delegation’s response to the proposed rule. 

“On behalf of thousands of Marylanders experiencing poverty, I want to thank the Members of the Maryland Congressional Delegation for their support for thoughtful and efficient policymaking,” Wilson said. “Not only is the proposed rule an attempt to get around Congress; it will force tens of thousands of Marylanders into a more bureaucratic process, cost the state more time and money, and thousands of our neighbors will be delayed and possibly denied benefits.”

Wilson said he believes the structure of categorical eligibility should remain. 

“Categorical eligibility is an efficient, effective way to make sure we use government resources for those who are eligible,” said Wilson. “This change is unnecessary. We need to keep moving forward and making sure that we provide food and nutrition assistance for folks who are seniors, for the kids in school and for families all across the state.” 

Members of the public commented on the proposed rule for a 60-day period, which closed on Sept. 23. The administration next will take the submitted comments into consideration to potentially amend the proposed rule change, before taking the next steps to put it into effect. The timing for review and implication has not been made available.