U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes during a congressional hearing on education.

Washington – The Trump administration is moving toward tightening the requirements for food stamps, which could push tens of thousands of low-income Connecticut residents off  the program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to soon propose regulations that would eliminate or reduce the ability of states to distribute food stamps to people earning more than 130 percent of poverty guidelines, which is $33,475 for a family of four.

Currently, some states allow those eligible for food stamps to earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, if the recipients are enrolled in another social safety net program.

That policy of “broad based categorical eligibility” for food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the program is officially named, allows Connecticut to enroll recipients who earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $3,870 per month.

“Some states abuse those guidelines,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing last week.

According to the Connecticut Department of Social Services, there are 364,000 food stamp recipients in Connecticut, down from the more than 400,000 people enrolled in the program late last year. It’s unclear how many of those people would be affected by a cutback in eligibility, but anti-hunger advocates expect it would be tens of thousands.

“Some states abuse those guidelines.”

U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D

Republicans say the expansion of eligibility in states like Connecticut has opened the door to fraud and abuse of the program and makes it too easy for people to receive benefits that should only go to the truly needy. They pointed to a man from Minnesota who attended last week’s hearing who said he had a net worth of over $1 million and applied for and received food stamps.

Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., said “millions of food stamp recipients” sell their benefits on the street “for 50 cents on the dollar.”

Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, a member of the Agriculture Committee who grew up in Waterbury’s toughest housing project and whose family relied on public assistance, bristled at the notion that there is widespread fraud in the food stamp program.

“I’ve been on the other side of those benefits, so being in this room and in this committee hearing is somewhat personal to me,” Hayes said.

She told of living with her grandmother, who received $68 a month in SNAP benefits, and said she has also relied on food stamps herself.

Hayes said the adults in a family of four would have to work 95 hours a week at Connecticut’s minimum wage of $10.10 an hour to hit the income limit for food stamps.

“I know that because I worked three jobs and still qualified for SNAP benefits because I fell under the threshold,” Hayes said.

“You would receive $642 a month in benefits, which breaks down to about $160 a week for a family of four. That’s $40 per person per week. A gallon of milk is $3.99 in my state. Which means that 10 percent of your weekly SNAP budget would go for a gallon of milk. Nobody is taking advantage of that.”

U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn.

A former history teacher and national Teacher of the Year, Hayes gave Republican colleagues on the agriculture panel a math lesson.

“You would receive $642 a month in benefits, which breaks down to about $160 a week for a family of four. That’s $40 per person per week,” she said. “A gallon of milk is $3.99 in my state. Which means that 10 percent of your weekly SNAP budget would go for a gallon of milk. Nobody is taking advantage of that.”

While SNAP benefits are paid by the federal government and managed by the USDA, states operate the program and are reimbursed for administrative costs.

Robin Lamott Sparks, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, said the proposal, and another plan by the Trump administration to change the consumer inflation measure used to determine eligibility for food stamps and other social service programs, would be devastating in places like Connecticut where the cost of living, including the cost of groceries and housing, is high.

“We couldn’t be more disappointed in this because we know it will mean more families and children will be going hungry,” she said. “It is unacceptable in this country.”

Lamott Sparks said there’s an unintended consequence of paring back the food stamp program – thousands of children in the state whose families are cut from the program would lose their free or reduced-price school lunches. In Connecticut, children whose families receive food stamps automatically are eligible for school nutrition assistance programs.

House Republicans tried to cut SNAP last year and force states to impose work requirements on recipients. But the Senate, also under GOP control last year, rejected the proposal.

“We couldn’t be more disappointed in this because we know it will mean more families and children will be going hungry. It is unacceptable in this country.”

Robin Lamott Sparks
Executive Director, End Hunger Connecticut!

Now, with Democratic control of the U.S. House, there is less of a chance for Congress to cut social programs

As a result, the Trump administration, which has asked Congress to cut SNAP by $220 billion, is trying to cut the program through executive authority.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong joined 20 other Democratic attorneys general in opposing the proposal to change the consumer inflation measure. In a  May 7 announcement, the federal Office of Management and Budget said  it is considering lowering the measure of inflation that is used when adjusting the federal poverty threshold. That threshold determines eligibility for food stamps and a host of other social programs.

The state attorneys general wrote the OMB that its method to calculate poverty is already flawed, resulting in “thresholds that are too low to reflect true poverty rates,” and “switching to a lower measure of inflation to calculate the (official poverty measure) under the current methodology would exacerbate the problems that already exist.”

“The Trump Administration wants to manipulate the numbers to magically erase poverty for millions of Americans in need,” Tong said. “This cynical policy change has no basis in the real economic situation of poor families. The proposal is more than shifting lines on a spreadsheet—it will deny Connecticut families food stamps, health care assistance and other assistance they rely on daily to stay afloat.”

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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10 Comments

  1. There has been widespread abuse of the SNAP system, not only are some states allowing applicants to receive food stamps up to 200% of the poverty level but in many cases there is no verification and many states provide food stamps based on the applicant’s “personal testimony”. In other word, if you check the right boxes you get food stamps. This is what allowed millionaires to apply and receive food stamps even though he “begged the department to find a way to refuse him”. But they did not want to refuse him, they were “advocates for the poor” and had no idea this guy was a millionaire (https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/after-legally-receiving-food-stamps-millionaire-trying-change-system)
    This is what this legislation is about. There are no asset checks in SNAP. Someone can have a billion dollars in assets and if they are currently receiving no salary they can apply and Legally receive.

    That is what this legislation is about, and it is disturbing to see it reduced to a hit piece on Trump. Arggggghhhhh. disgusting.

  2. To say that the SNAP system does not have fraud is both a naive and disingenuous argument because it is false. There are many places where food stamps are sold for cash or traded at below market rates. There are also many legitimate people who live in poverty in our state – but that is the point – we need to be certain that they (not the abusers) are the ones getting the benefit. Connecticut’s system of checks and balances is nonexistent and that is why the abuse continues – no consequences for the abusers. This applies to ALL social programs not just SNAP.

  3. A salary of $3,670 per month equals to an annual income of $46,440 per year. I am elderly and unemployed and live on 70% of that, with no government assistance for food, shelter or heat. Why doesn’t someone teach low income individuals how to shop and cook in a manner that stretches their funds, but still provides sound nutritional value. Almost anytime during a given week an individual can purchase on sale a dozen eggs for $1.99, a Lb of chesse for $4.99, a Lb of ham for $4.99, a loaf of bread for $2.50, a Lb of pasta for $1.50 and a whole roast chicken for $4.99. If cooked and use intelligently these ingredients can provide numerous meals for a family at a total cost of less than $20.00. My mother was very frugal, but was always able to provide a nutritional meal for a very low cost. However, it took smart shopping, and sound meal planning to accomplish this goal. Maybe, more education is a better solution than increased SNAP benefits.

  4. Representative Hayes says “A gallon of milk is $3.99 in my state.” Where is that, the most expensive place to shop? I’ve never paid $3.99 for a gallon of milk. It’s $2.99 a gallon in any gas station. Already out of touch with the commons. 10% of the population of Connecticut alone are on this program. Instead of drama, what are the solutions to bolstering the economy such that ideally we don’t need a food stamp program?

  5. Food stamps were originally set up as a farm support program. It’s a way to provide a larger market for American farm products while also improving public health by providing access to nutritious food for lower income families. That’s why it’s operated through the Dept. of Agriculture.

    Right now, with farmers suffering with the extreme weather and flooding, American farmers need this support more than ever. Shouldn’t we be expanding food stamps to help our farmers?

  6. Some 40 million Americans or roughly 1 in 10 are on food stamps. Given our historic low rates of unemployment that seems overdone. Unless food stamps are a perpetual program going well beyond the original intent of helping the needy.

  7. Roughly 1 in 9 or 40 million Americans receive food stamps. That wasn’t its original purpose. If food stamps can’t be reigned in during the nation’s most vigorous post-War boom then it becomes just an another Federal entitlement.

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