A Mobil Food Mart in Hartford that accepts SNAP benefits. Julia Werth / CTMirror.org

Washington – Every member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation has asked the Trump administration to abandon a new rule they say would cut or eliminate benefits for as many as 45% of the state’s food stamp recipients.

“This proposed rule dramatically undermines Connecticut’s ability to assist families in need and will disproportionally impact our state’s most vulnerable populations,” the lawmakers wrote officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency in charge of the food stamp program.

The letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and Reps. John Larson, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes and Jahana Hayes.

The Trump administration wants to change the way utility costs, such as heating and cooling, are calculated. Right now, states are allowed to estimate how much residents spend on utilities and take that expense into account when determining eligibility for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, the official name for food stamps. A beneficiary’s utility payments are also considered in determining the amount of SNAP benefits.

Under the USDA’s new rule, a fixed utility cost would be set for every state. The USDA estimates the change would improve the integrity of SNAP and save the federal government an estimated $4.5 billion over five years.

Connecticut lawmakers told the USDA that states like Connecticut, which has the third highest energy costs in the nation – behind Alaska and Hawaii – needs flexibility in determining utility costs.

“Low-income residents in Connecticut spend a large portion of their income on heat and electricity,” they wrote. They said the average residential electricity customer in the state spent $1,706 on electricity in 2016, $355 more than the U.S. average.

“Asking families to choose between food and heat is cruel and runs in direct contrast to SNAP’s mission to increase self-sufficiency to help low-income families better deal with unexpected expenses or other financial challenges,” the lawmakers wrote.

They estimated 45% of the state’s SNAP recipients would be affected by the new rule.

According to the Connecticut Department of Social Services, there are 363,535 individuals in 212,893 households receiving food stamps in the state.

The lawmakers’ letter is among 89,000 public comments received by the USDA on the proposed food stamp rule before Monday’s deadline. Most were in opposition and many were from anti-hunger advocates, including End Hunger Connecticut!

“The proposed rule would exacerbate the struggles many low-income people have paying for costs of both food and utilities. It would have harmful impacts on health and well-being as well as on the economy. The proposed rule is flawed and should be withdrawn,” wrote Robin Lamott Sparks, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!

She said that in Connecticut, one out of every nine residents struggle with hunger and one in six are children.

“In addition…more than half of single adults age 65 and older in Connecticut can’t afford food, housing or other basic necessities, based on their income,” Lamott Sparks said. “The ‘economic insecurity’ of that population ranks Connecticut the 13th highest rate in the nation.”

In her public comments in opposition of the plan, Connecticut DSS Commissioner Deidre Gifford said that while the USDA has estimated that about 19.22 % of the nation’s food stamp recipients would lose benefits, that number would rise to nearly 45 % in Connecticut because of higher heating costs.

Unable to seek changes to the food stamp program in Congress, the Trump administration has turned to regulations to alter the program. Besides the proposed change to the way utility costs are calculated, the administration has also proposed stricter work requirements for SNAP eligibility and changes in the way states like Connecticut automatically enroll families into SNAP when they receive other forms of federal assistance.

In her public comments on the proposed rule, Gifford said all three proposed Trump administration changes to the food stamp program would be “devastating to Connecticut residents and the state’s economy as a whole.”

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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12 Comments

  1. Yet the 7.35% tax on “prepared foods” is affordable to all of us? Tightening a loop hole on utilities is good government. Taxing food, prepared or otherwise, is extortion.

  2. Has our delegation looked into why our utility costs are so high. I don’t want see people go hungry or anything like that. But why are 3rd only to Alaska and Hawaii. Its understanding why they are expensive. But why are we? Maybe its about time we address that elephant in the room.

    1. I agree! I didn’t see your message until after I just posted mine but I’m glad we both agree about utility costs! Somebody’s pockets are getting lined!

      1. Your perspectives are spot on. The relationship between Eversource, PURA and the state legislators is incestuous. The higher the utility cost, the more state taxes collected. The circular movement of taxpayer dollars happens like this: From taxpayer-to-DRS-to Eversource ( via PURA approved Rate Increase) -back to DRS. Look close at what I am saying. I believe it to be true.
        Also, keep a close eye on Pura. I suspect when Eversource wants a 10% rate increase. They ask PURA for 20%, and then PURA negotiates it down to only 10%. Eversource gets what it wants. PURA looks like it’s doing its job. DRS gets more taxpayer money and the taxpayers are fooled again.

  3. Needy Individuals that truly need and deserve SNAP Benefits, should be eligible. However, in the State of Connecticut, abuse and fraud happens much to frequently. Many small convenience stores in low income neighborhoods many times function as a cash exchange teller for unscrupulous SNAP Beneficiaries. Even worse, back in 2011 after Hurricane Irene, 97 ineligible state employees filed for, and obtained SNAP benefits illegally. So, I’m not sure if this program change is the correct fix, but there is truly a problem in the State of Connecticut with it’s SNAP Program.

    1. John Doe, you are seriously underestimating the initiative of our state employees. 97 employees were fired, but 185 ineligible employees filed for benefits. Those that weren’t fired either were suspended (and kept their jobs); resigned (and kept their pension); or retired (and collected their pension).
      Source: Journal Publishing Co. By Ed Jacovino ; Journal Inquirer ; Sep 21, 2013

  4. We have had cap and trade in place for our utilities along with 8 other states for about the last 10 years.

  5. Will the new work requirements affect people on social security? I don’t understand why SNAP is a targeted program. Every person deserves food. My elderly parents needed it because of medical bills in their final year.

  6. With all the billions in submarine cash flowing into Connecticut isn’t it time that the chronically able bodied people on welfare get to work? Come on Joe Courtney. Do your job. Instead of complaining about President Trump, get your citizens working. Stop the generational welfare. Trump is right, time to curb the misuse especially in our booming economy. Pratt and Whitney has received billions in federal dollars, get them to hire and train the welfare slurpers.

  7. I guess the CT lawmakers have no problem cutting funding for state programs and the like, but when the Fed does it, it’s a different story.

  8. Work is a dirty word when the dems are counting on an indentured population for votes. Does not matter that there are generations within a family that have been robbed the satisfaction of doing a good job or any job for that matter. Able bodied people should work, and with the Trump economy even Connecticut, though lagging behind does have jobs available finally. People who are really in need of assistance are a different population and are NOT being targeted. But it does make a good sound bite.

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