USDA’s Proposal to Close SNAP Automatic Eligibility “Loophole” Faces Pushback from U.S. Mayors
On July 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FSN) published a proposed rule, “Revision of Categorial Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)” aiming to close what it calls an automatic eligibility “loophole” in the program. As background, the law authorizing SNAP includes specific income and asset standards to qualify for SNAP benefits, but the law also allows states to confer “categorical eligibility” on those who have already been certified for similar means-tested programs (i.e., programs that check income, assets, etc. to ensure applicants are eligible, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)).
Some states have expanded the use of categorical eligibility so that households who receive TANF benefits are automatically eligible to participate in the SNAP, without having to qualify for the federal income or assets limits for SNAP. The administration is calling this expansion a “loophole” as some households may qualify under SNAP when they would otherwise not under regular program rules, with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue stating that “For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint.”
Under the new rule, an estimated 3.1 million people would lose their food assistance under SNAP. On August 21, 2019, in a letter to an administrator for SNAP, 70 U.S. mayors rejected the proposal. “This proposal will put children’s health and development at risk by removing their access to healthy school meals; and harm our economy by reducing the amount of SNAP dollars available to spur regional and local economic activity.” Written comments on the proposed rule must be received on or before September 23, 2019.