90,000 People In Mass. Potentially Losing Access To Food Stamps Under Trump Proposal

The Trump Administration is proposing a change to the rules that govern who is eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, commonly known as food stamps. Under the proposed rule changes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates three million people would lose benefits, which includes an estimated 90,000 people in Massachusetts, according to the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA).

Massachusetts SNAP
Photograph by Jonathan Weiss/JetCity Image/Getty Images, illustration by Emily Judem/WGBH News

The proposed changes would prohibit the states from expanding who is eligible for the program beyond the federal baseline, which is $33,475 for a family of four — or 130 percent of the federal poverty level. Right now, 39 states, including Massachusetts, offer federally-funded SNAP benefits to people who make more than that — up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level — but still qualify for benefits because they have other expenses that make it hard for them to pay for food.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the rule changes will “close a loophole” and would save the federal government an estimated $2.5 billion a year.

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” said Perdue. “The American people expect their government to be fair, efficient, and to have integrity.”

The proposed changes are opposed by anti-poverty organizations that help administer SNAP, such as Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), which serves thousands of people in Eastern Massachusetts. President of ABCD John Drew says if this proposed change goes into effect, it will mostly likely impact elderly people, single parents and people that work multiple jobs for low pay — state residents who work but barely make enough to get by because of childcare costs, housing and other expenses.

“You’re essentially taking food out of the mouths of children and families,” said Drew. “These folks are not wealthy. They work hard and struggle to put food on the table. Food stamps are a way for them to stabilize their households and make sure their children get three meals a day.”

Under federal law, anyone who makes less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level is eligible for SNAP benefits. Thirty-nine states expand who can receive SNAP. Massachusetts uses a standard of 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which corresponds to $51,500 for a family of four if they can demonstrate they have trouble paying for food.

Federal law also says households must have less than $3,500 in assets to receive the benefits, a standard that Massachusetts waives for households with seniors or people with disabilities. These state-level rules that expand coverage are called “broad-based eligibility” and would be overturned under Trump’s proposed changes.

Currently, about 265,000 children in the U.S. automatically qualify for free school lunches through SNAP, and the proposed rule changes could affect who is eligible, threatening a program that thousands of Massachusetts children rely on.

More than 770,000 people in Massachusetts currently receive SNAP benefits, according to a spokesperson for the state DTA. More than a third of the recipients are under the age of 18.

If 90,000 people lose benefits, Drew expects many will rely on the dozens of food banks and pantries in the state, which may not be adequate for some people, such as seniors, who have limited mobility.