Three proposed rule changes from the Trump administration over the past year could cause 3.7 million people to lose eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. That’s according to a study from the Urban Institute released last week. The institute studied the combined effects of stricter work requirements, a cap on the deduction recipients can take for utility costs, and a change to the automatic enrollment 40 states have used for families receiving other forms of federal assistance.
The results are that 3.7 million fewer people per month would receive SNAP, 2.2 million families would lose an average $127 per month in benefits, and another 3 million would lose $37 in benefits per month. Nearly a million students would lose access to free or reduced-price school lunches. Using 2018 numbers, “What we found is that overall the three proposed changes would reduce the number of households participating in SNAP by about 11 percent,” said Laura Wheaton, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “It’s about a 9.4 percent reduction in the number of people participating and about an 8 percent reduction in overall benefits.”
And 3.7 million people experiencing hunger and greater food insecurity. Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign explained the larger effects, including an average $2,000 in healthcare costs for every person who becomes food insecure. “The essential goal of the program is to mitigate hunger and its consequences in the United States,” he said. “Anything that impedes SNAP of doing that is very problematic as it leads to food insecurity in our country.” That’s to “save” taxpayers about $4.2 billion, the estimated reduction in the SNAP budget. Meanwhile, nearly one quarter of families that don’t have children, elderly, or disabled family members would lose eligibility entirely. So would 12% of families with elderly members and 7% of households with children.
Who picks up the slack? Food banks, in part. But whether they have the capacity to take on millions more clients is unclear. Jocelyn Lantrip, the communications director at the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, says simply, “Food shouldn’t be a luxury.” If the rules go through, she estimates an additional 196,000 people will need help from food banks in Nevada. “That’s really hard for food banks to keep up with if you have that kind of decline in benefits,” she said. “We support people if they fall outside of the safety net, but we can’t replace the safety net as a food bank. We’re spinning our wheels already, because when unemployment is low people assume hunger is low, but we’re just helping more working poor than before.”