Van Hollen, Democrats Push Against Food Stamp Rule

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. USDA photo

Maryland Democrats on Capitol Hill are pressing Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to rescind a proposed rule that could cause tens of thousands of Marylanders to lose food stamp benefits.

All of the state’s Democratic U.S. senators and representatives have signed on to a letter from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D), which says that 50,000 Marylanders could lose Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits if a new eligibility rule takes effect.

“Unfortunately, it is Maryland’s most vulnerable residents, including children, seniors, and people with disabilities, who would suffer the painful consequences of unnecessary and preventable hunger,” the lawmakers wrote.

Maryland is among more than 40 states that administers the food stamp program using “categorical eligibility,” meaning residents are automatically eligible for SNAP if they receive a benefit from federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, known in Maryland as Temporary Cash Assistance.

The proposed rule would stop the practice, which Trump administration officials say is being abused.

But Congress has supported the current eligibility rules for several years, beginning in 1996 when lawmakers voted to start the practice. Categorical eligibility was most recently reaffirmed in the 2018 Farm Bill.

“The current categorical eligibility option has been thoroughly vetted for more than two decades, and past iterations of the policies included in this proposed rule have been rejected by Congress,” the Maryland lawmakers wrote. “…This proposed rule is a clear attempt to circumvent Congressional intent through the regulatory process.”

In introducing the proposed rule in July, Trump administration officials said states abuse the policy by providing a nominal TANF benefit – such as a brochure printed with the federal funds – to establish automatic SNAP eligibility for low-income families. Such a transaction effectively raises the federal government’s cap for SNAP benefits in some states.

In Maryland, for example, a person can qualify for Temporary Cash Assistance if they earn 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less. For a family to qualify for SNAP independently, the federal government caps income at 130 percent of the poverty level.

Changing the rule would result in reduction of SNAP participation nationwide by 3.1 million people and cut costs by about $9.4 billion over the next five years, the administration estimated.

But the Democratic lawmakers note that a more stringent application process will increase administrative costs by more than $2.3 billion, according to Agriculture Department estimates.

The letter is expected to be sent to Perdue on Tuesday.

The proposed rule is open for public comment until next Monday.

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.

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