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Trump-era plan to reduce SNAP eligibility is withdrawn

The Biden administration withdrew a Trump-era proposal on Wednesday to tighten eligibility rules for food stamps and reduce SNAP enrollment by 3.1 million people. It was the second major Trump SNAP regulation to founder under the new administration. Both would have restricted access to SNAP benefits.

“The [Agriculture] Department … no longer believes that the limitations the proposed rule would have put on categorical eligibility are appropriate,” said the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in withdrawing the 2019 regulation. Created in 1996 to streamline the administration of social welfare programs, categorical eligibility means that someone will be automatically considered for SNAP benefits if they receive assistance through another program. Forty states employ categorical eligibility, often called Cat El.

Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, charged that “some states are taking advantage of a loophole,” meaning Cat El, to load SNAP rolls. Anti-hunger advocates say Cat El helps people afford a basic diet. The Trump proposal would have limited Cat El to people who received at least $50 a month in welfare, with aid guaranteed for six months. Three types of non-cash assistance would have been accepted: subsidized work programs, childcare assistance, or work supports.

Nearly 158,000 comments were filed with the USDA over the Cat El proposal, and they generally opposed it. “Many expressed concerns that this policy would increase the administrative burden on states and potentially jeopardize food security for children, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly,” said the FNS. It said it would continue to use so-called broad-based categorical eligibility.

The anti-hunger Food Research and Action Center applauded the withdrawal, which it said “preserves SNAP benefits for more than 3 million people in low-income families working their way up the economic ladder and ensures a direct connection to free school meals for the children in their households.”

Last October, a federal judge overturned a Trump rule that reduced the power of states to provide food stamps to able-bodied adults who do not work at least 20 hours a week. At least 755,000 adults would have lost benefits under that rule.

A USDA explanation for withdrawal of the Cat El rule is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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