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.”