SNAP Assistance in Jeopardy

As if there was enough for low-income families to worry about, the Trump Administration has proposed changes to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or what you may remember as ‘food stamps.’ If these changes occur, the US Department of Agriculture estimates three million people in this country will lose access to these benefits.

Although the federal government funds SNAP, each individual state has been allowed some flexibility in setting eligibility requirements for their residents. The Trump administration is looking to take away the ability for states to set their own eligibility rules, referred to as Categorical Eligibility.

What is categorical eligibility?

There are two main categories, depending on what state you live in, that have been expanded so more people in need are eligible to receive SNAP benefits. For example, NJ increased the gross income level to 185% of the poverty line (about $38,000 p/year for a family of 4), instead of the 130% proposed, and removed the cap on assets.

If you are a New Jersey resident, you are well aware of how expensive it is to live in this state. Our wages are “higher” than most places, our home and property tax payments are also higher than in other states. Our high cost of living makes it hard for any family to make ends meet. As of this past May, approximately 700,000 NJ residents received SNAP benefits; around half of those being children (320,434). To break it down, that means nearly 1 in every 10 people are participating in SNAP.

The proposed changes will be universal across the nation but could have an outsized impact on SNAP recipients in NJ. By lowering the gross income cap to 130%, around sixty-eight thousand people will lose their SNAP in NJ. An estimated twenty-five thousand children will no longer be eligible for free school meals. A total of thirty-three million dollars per year will be lost revenue for the state, as that money will not be spent in NJ food stores. The proposed changed rules would also require that all eligible participants would have to meet the ‘asset test.’ This test consists of any savings accounts or personal assets like more than one car, stocks, or pension funds that combined cannot exceed $2,250. So, if you were planning on saving over $2,250 in case of an emergency, retirement, or saving for your children’s college education, you would no longer receive SNAP benefits. The administration’s proposal actually discourages residents from saving money.

Residents here are already at a significant disadvantage because of our state’s high wages and high cost of living. Even at minimum wage, you are only $2,000 under the proposed cap limit on gross income (about $33,000 p/yr for a family of 4). In NJ, your salary needs to be more than minimum wage to afford our expensive housing costs and high taxes. But you can’t earn more, if you do, you risk losing your SNAP benefits. Imagine having to choose between food for your family or a roof over their heads.

I’m not sure why the Trump administration would think a lower universal threshold would be the best option for everyone in this country. Alabama is vastly different than New Jersey and the residents there have unique needs different from those in Colorado or California. Sometimes compromise is necessary. Leave it up to each state to decide what their population needs.

So what can people do?

The public, yes, that means you, have 60 days to comment on the proposal. Comments will be closed September 23rd. Hopefully, if enough people oppose it, the plan will not pass, and we will be able to keep the flexibility we have had for years to come. That flexibility has allowed NJ to provide assistance to those families that need it, gradually helping people climb out of the never-ending circle of poverty. Children will continue to receive breakfast and lunches at school, and adults will be able to provide nutritious meals for their families.

New Jersey residents are known for being tough. We’ve survived recessions, housing market crashes, Superstorm Sandy, boardwalk fires. We watched the towers fall from our own backyard, many of our friends and family in them or fighting for them. We stand up for those who are taken advantage of. We are not afraid to speak our minds. You can’t live a stone’s throw from NYC and not pick up an attitude. (I argue they got it from us…) Now’s the time to show the Trump Administration who NJ is and what ‘Jersey Strong’ means.

You can send your comments to the government here. Share the link and urge people to comment because NJ is not the only state with so much to lose.