SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A proposal by the USDA could mean millions of people could be cut off from nutrition assistance programs.

The USDA announced on Tuesday, its proposal to change rules for automatic eligibility of supplemental nutritional assistance programs, or SNAP.

The USDA says the move is a way to close what they’re calling a loophole that allows people receiving minimal temporary assistance to automatically be eligible for SNAP benefits.

While the USDA argues people are receiving benefits who may not need it, congressman Jim McGovern said the move would cut benefits to more than three million low-income Americans trying to pull themselves out of poverty.

Gray House, which operates a food pantry in Springfield, said when benefits were up in the air during the government shutdown, they saw an added strain that could occur again if benefits are cut.

The Gray House’s Executive Director, Teresa Liberti told 22News it was hard to feed local families.

“There was a lot of uncertainty around the snap benefits, and people were really struggling and they were depending on us more than ever,” said Liberti. “We saw a huge spike in the number of individuals and families who were coming to us for food assistance and it definitely put a strain on us as well.”

The proposal would mean 500,000 kids could lose their automatic eligibility for free lunch according to Congressman McGovern.

The USDA said the move would save the department billions of dollars.

Press Release: USDA Proposes to Close SNAP Automatic Eligibility Loophole

  • USDA is working to ensure benefits are provided with integrity to those most in need

WASHINGTON, July 23, 2019 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today proposed closing a loophole that allows states to make participants receiving minimal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits automatically eligible to participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The proposed rule published today in the Federal Register would limit SNAP/TANF automatic eligibility to households that receive substantial, ongoing TANF-funded benefits aimed at helping families move towards self-sufficiency. 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. 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. This proposal gives USDA the ability to save billions of dollars, ensuring nutrition assistance programs are delivered with consistency and integrity to those most in need.

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “The American people expect their government to be fair, efficient, and to have integrity – just as they do in their own homes, businesses, and communities. That is why we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.”

Currently, benefits may be as minimal as simply providing a household with an informational brochure describing social services or access to hotline numbers. These nominal benefits are often given without conducting a robust eligibility determination. Congress has established clear eligibility standards. It is USDA’s responsibility to make sure those who receive benefits are eligible.

To confer automatic eligibility for SNAP under the proposal, a household must receive TANF-funded cash or non-cash benefits valued at a minimum of $50 per month for at least 6 months. In addition, non-cash benefits that could convey automatic eligibility would be restricted to subsidized employment, work supports, or childcare. By establishing clear standards and requiring that benefits be ongoing and substantial, the proposal will ensure SNAP benefits go toward Americans most in need.

USDA encourages all interested parties to provide input on the proposed rule through www.regulations.gov. The comment period will be open for 60 days.

To learn more about this proposed rule, view this fact sheet.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works to reduce food insecurity and promote nutritious diets among the American people. The agency administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that leverage American’s agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat. FNS also co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide science-based nutrition recommendations and serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy.

Schumer Statement On The Trump Administration’s Proposal To Cut Nutrition Assistance For Millions Of Americans

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today released the following statement regarding the Trump administration’s proposed new rule, which would take nutrition assistance away from millions of Americans:

“It is outrageous, cruel and galling that after giving trillions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations, the Trump administration, under the guise of fiscal austerity, is attempting to take nutrition assistance away from millions of Americans on the verge of hunger—including school children and people with disabilities. The proposed new rule from the USDA is just the latest Trump administration attack on hard-working American families trying to make ends meet and could take food out of the mouths of 3 million Americans. I strongly condemn this harmful change proposed by President Trump and will fight to make sure these cuts never become a reality.”