Photo: Bodega Cats on Twitter

The Trump administration, unable to get Congress to go along with slashing the safety net for poor people, has announced a new rule that will throw 3.1 million people off the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), aka Food Stamps. The new rule will end the ability of people to automatically qualify for SNAP if they receive other federal and state benefits, eliminating a provision that states have used to streamline the application process and ensure families in need get food they need. Ah, but Trump's USDA is framing the new regulation as a huge money saver, and even more important, a way to eliminate fraud by one guy who made wingnuts angry when he was featured by Fox News. Yes, really.

The Washington Post has the deets:

In a telephone call with reporters, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Acting Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps said the proposed new rules for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) were aimed at ending automatic eligibility for those who were already receiving federal and state assistance.

"This proposal will save money and preserve the integrity of the program," Perdue said. "SNAP should be a temporary safety net."

There are 43 states that currently grant eligibility for SNAP for people who qualify for other assistance programs, without requiring a separate test of their assets or income. For instance, if someone qualifies for Medicaid, a state can grant them automatic eligibility for SNAP and sign 'em up.

Acting Under Secretary Lipps, temporarily on leave from his eponymous corporation based in Funky Town, said the move would save a whopping $2.5 billion a year, which surely won't result in misery or even hardship because some of the people who currently get food assistance are clearly not poor enough.

The real reason for taking food help away from 3.1 million people is explained right here, though. They all have to be punished for this one guy's actions:

USDA officials told the call the proposal was aimed at closing a loophole that was famously exploited by a wealthy Minnesota man, Rob Undersander, who claims he received food stamps for 19 months despite owning significant assets such as property and bank accounts.

"Now people will have to qualify like everyone else," Perdue said.

The actual value of assistance Undersander received? As Fox Business announced in its headline, "HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS." So surely everyone else getting the benefits is a millionaire cheating the system too! Incredibly, Undersander discovered the "loophole" when he was volunteering to help seniors navigate and apply for social services. Now he can say he really helped.

Thank god, now all those horrible frauders can be stopped from their horrible frauding, and the feds will save $2.5 billion a year. Oh, hey, what will the increased administrative costs be for means-testing all those people who otherwise would have automatically qualified? That's not mentioned in the WaPo piece, but we bet it won't be cheap! Not a concern, though -- the states administer the program, so it's their problem.

Mind you, this is going to put the hurt on a lot of people. The existing rule is designed to give states more flexibility to meet local needs, even letting them

raise SNAP income eligibility limits so that low-income families with housing and child care costs that consume a sizable share of their income can continue to receive help affording adequate food.

This option also allows states to adopt less restrictive asset tests so that families, seniors and people with a disability can have modest savings or own their own home without losing SNAP benefits.

As Rebecca Vallas, senior fellow for poverty with the Center For American Progress, points out in a very smart thread on the Twitter machine, the people tossed off SNAP by this new arrangement are not millionaires. The policy (wonkishly named "categorical eligibility"; Vallas shortens that to "cat-el" here), is supposed to

[give] states flexibility to smooth so-called "benefit cliffs" in SNAP, to prevent sudden loss of food assistance when a worker's wages go up even slightly.

Make everyone meet the rigorous wage/assets limits for the federal program, says Vallas, and you've got a very different, very cruel cat-el call:

Take a worker earning $12.50/hr, with 2 kids. They're at 125% of the federal poverty level, receiving about $161 in SNAP. Thanks to cat-el, if the worker gets a 50-cent raise (+$86/mo), the family's SNAP benefits go down by just $31, a net gain to the household of $55.

But under Trump's rule, if the same worker gets a 50-cent raise, the whole family loses SNAP overnight, because it puts them >130% FPL. They face a net *loss* of $75 per month. They're *worse off* after getting a raise.

Isn't THAT a neat trick! Vallas also points out the existing policy allows states to help people get past some "frankly pretty economically boneheaded" asset limits built into SNAP.

But if Trump's new rule takes effect, states would be forced to take food assistance away from families with even modest precautionary savings. A couple thousand dollars in the bank for that rainy day we're all told to save for? Bye-bye food assistance.

Add to that the fact that 40 percent of people report they're unable to cope with an unexpected expense of $400, and you've got a recipe for more misery, more evictions, more lost jobs for people who are already on the margins. By contrast, Vallas notes,

research from the Urban Institute shows families in the ~40 states that have lifted or eliminated asset penalties are more likely to have a bank account -- and to have at least $500 in it.

Current asset and income rules, she says, are pretty much designed to trap people in poverty -- and now the Trump administration wants to make that trap even harder to escape.

As Politico writer Michael Grunwald notes, the new rules are a clever end run around Congress:

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), the ranking Dem on the Ag Committee, is feeling plenty stabby now:

"This proposal is yet another attempt by this Administration to circumvent Congress and make harmful changes to nutrition assistance that have been repeatedly rejected on a bipartisan basis," Stabenow said in a statement. "This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals, and make it harder for states to administer food assistance."

On the other hand, no millionaire will ever get a few hundred dollars in SNAP benefits to make a point on TV, so we should consider how well this all balances out.

Gosh, guess after this "reform" goes into effect (after a 60-day public comment period so the USDA can ignore the comments), Fox will never manufacture an outrage about food stamps ever again.

[WaPo / Fox Business / Rebecca Vallas on Twitter / Photo: Bodega Cats on Twitter]]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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