Written by Stephen Harris for the United Way of Hunterdon County
Sometimes it does seem like hard working families can’t get a break. At a time when more families are struggling with food insecurity, the USDA is proposing changes to SNAP. United Way Worldwide joins numerous organizations in opposition to the proposed changes. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program and provides timely, targeted and temporary support to low-income households for the purchase of food. Proposed changes to how the USDA calculates SNAP eligibility would reduce the benefits for some families; at a time when the families are under greater financial stress and the need for food assistance is high.
In 2017, about 42 million people accessed food through SNAP, of which 87% of the participants are households with children, seniors, or individuals with disabilities. SNAP is designed to supplement the income of low-wage earners to help working families, as well as those living on a tight budget -- our seniors and neighbors with disabilities - make ends meet.
SNAP helps families buy food, freeing up resources to pay for other basic needs, which then infuses additional dollars into the local economy. When calculating the benefits provided to a family, one of the variables used is the amount of utilities the family pays. A change in this rule would potentially lower a family’s SNAP benefits.
The Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) provides states the flexibility to consider the actual cost of utilities most households pay in determining the amount of SNAP benefits allocated for beneficiaries. Heating and cooling costs are the largest allowance provided in the determination. The proposed change affected with SUA takes the average utility costs by state and then caps utility costs. This change does not include utility cost variances within the state. For instance, heating costs in the Upper Peninsula vs the lower region of Michigan.
United Way estimates that this proposal will result in cuts to SNAP funding of up to $4.5 billion over the next five years. The Administration concedes that the proposed rule would cause 19 percent of SNAP households to receive lower SNAP monthly benefits, disproportionately impacting seniors and people with disabilities.
“United Way is committed to preserving access to nutritious food, fighting hunger and supporting working families. SNAP makes food accessible to hungry families more cost-effectively and at a scale that no independent nonprofit can match. SNAP is a $65 billion program; United Way raises $3.6 billion each year across the United States. If SNAP benefits are restricted, food banks that are already stretched thin will be overrun with demand.”
“USDA should be strengthening the positive impacts of SNAP for health, well-being and economic activity, not making cuts to SNAP benefits. We strongly oppose the proposed rule and request the USDA withdraw the rule and work with states to improve their SUA’s methodology under existing flexibility. “
Public comments are being accepted through Dec. 2nd. If you are interested in learning more or submitting a public comment you can do so here.