On Tuesday, the Trump administration proposed a federal rule that would limit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) automatic eligibility to only those households that receive “substantial, ongoing” benefits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) called the rule a fix to a “loophole.”
The loophole to which the USDA is referring is the policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which has been in place for two decades. The policy enables states to slightly raise SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) eligibility limits so that low-income families whose income exceeds 130% of the federal poverty line can still receive benefits.
As a result of this policy, “more than 40 states effectively use less restrictive income and asset tests in SNAP,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
“These are working families who are just above SNAP’s income cutoff,” said Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the CBPP, to NPR.
In 2020, 3.1 million SNAP participants would be eligible because of the broad-based categorical eligibility policy, according to statistics from the USDA. Under the Trump administration’s proposed rule, the policy would be eliminated, and these 3.1 million people would no longer be eligible for food assistance.
“The proposed rule would fix a loophole that has expanded SNAP recipients in some states to include people who receive assistance when they clearly don’t need it,” said the USDA in a press release this week. “In fact, the depth of this specific flexibility has become so egregious that a millionaire living in Minnesota successfully enrolled in the program simply to highlight the waste of taxpayer money.”
The millionaire living in Minnesota, 66-year-old Rob Undersander, says he enrolled in SNAP to prove a point and to “call attention to flaws in the system,” according to U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD). Undersander received food assistance for 19 months because his income was low during this period, even though the wealth contained in his assets qualified him to be a millionaire.
Undersander’s experience exposes the flaws in the system, Republicans say. Democrats say Undersander is an outlier who intentionally defrauded the system and took benefits away from those who most needed it.
Broad-based categorical eligibility “primarily helps households with high expenses: more than 90 percent of the resulting benefits go to households whose rent or mortgage and utility costs exceed half of their net income, and about 50 percent go to households that pay for dependent care for a child or elderly or disabled household member,” according to the CBPP.
About 36 million people currently receive SNAP benefits, a number which has declined steadily since 2013.