Spotlight Exclusives

Proposed SNAP Change Would Exacerbate Childhood Hunger

Lisa Davis, Share Our Strength Lisa Davis, Share Our Strength, posted on

One of our core values as a nation is the belief in opportunity – that every child has the chance to succeed and to achieve their dreams. But our kids can’t be hungry to learn when they’re just plain hungry.

When kids aren’t getting the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and strong, it exacerbates all other problems they face – diminishing their academic performance, mental and physical health and development and dimming opportunities to escape the cycle of poverty.

Unfortunately, the Administration’s recent proposed rule to roll back a policy known as Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) is a huge step back in the fight to end childhood hunger.

An estimated 3 million people – the majority of whom are low-income parents, seniors and people with disabilities – would lose Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits under this rule. In addition, more than 500,000 kids could lose free school meals, hitting them with the double whammy of lost meals at home and at school.

This rule will increase hunger and hardship, period.

In a nation where millions of kids live in food insecure families, this is simply unacceptable.

Broad Based Categorical Eligibility is an effective, practical policy that helps low-income working families move out of poverty and build financial security. By allowing states to align eligibility for SNAP with eligibility requirements for other anti-poverty programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), it both reduces complexity and strengthens access to both SNAP and free school meals for families whose gross incomes are modestly above the poverty line. It also allows those families to accumulate modest assets to weather an unexpected financial crisis and softens the benefit cliff they face as their incomes increase.

Here’s an example: A single mother with two children who works full-time and earns $12.75 an hour could receive about $96 per month in SNAP benefits. Without Broad Based Categorical Eligibility, if her wages increased by only 50 cents an hour, her income would rise above 130% of the poverty line and her family would become ineligible for SNAP, losing about $10 per month in net resources.

With BBCE however, that mother could slowly phase off of SNAP as her wages continue to increase.

Children in families receiving SNAP are also automatically certified to receive free school breakfast and lunch. The access to free school meals because of a family’s receipt of SNAP is critical; even the reduced-price cost of school meals can add up, particularly in families with multiple children.

Forty million people live in food-insecure homes in the U.S., and millions more live paycheck-to-paycheck, one lost job, health crisis or other emergency away from becoming food-insecure themselves. A study by the Federal Reserve shows that four in 10 Americans couldn’t come up with $400 for an emergency expense, like a car repair or a medical bill, without selling something or borrowing money, setting them back months or even years.

These are moms and dads that are working hard to better their lives and those of their children. Often, they hold down multiple jobs, cut expenses to the bone, and still find it nearly impossible to stretch their paychecks to make ends meet.

SNAP is a nutritional lifeline for many of these families.

With so many drawbacks to this rule, why would anyone back it? Supporters of this proposed rule claim restricting BBCE will close a loop hole that allows people to bypass eligibility requirements.

That thinking represents a gross misunderstanding of BBCE and how it works.

Here are the facts: BBCE is not an automatic pathway to SNAP benefits. Families must still apply and qualify for benefits through the regular application process and rules, including complying with work requirements and time limits for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents. In fact, families can be categorically eligible for SNAP but unable to receive a benefit because their net incomes after deductions for things like housing, child care and health costs are too high.

The recipients targeted by this rule aren’t wealthy individuals defrauding the government. Instead, they are working poor families with high expenses and low disposable incomes.

The Urban Institute found that nearly 6 out of 10 families with a gross income of less than 200% of  the poverty line experienced real hardship, including food insecurity, challenges in paying their mortgage, problems paying medical bills and foregoing medical care due to cost. BBCE is a policy that balances state flexibility with effective national standards to allow states to better support families like these.

Instead of making it harder for low-income families to make ends meet, we should be doing more to ensure all kids in America can get the food they need to grow up healthy, strong and successful, no matter their families’ circumstances.

We all want our children to grow up healthy and able to achieve their full potential.

We need to protect BBCE, and in turn, protect all the children and families who rely on it. Our country’s children deserve better.

Lisa Davis serves as Senior Vice President of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

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