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Kuster blasts food stamp cuts

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Nashua, N.H., December 5, 2019 | By Casey Junkins
NASHUA – Hundreds, if not thousands, in Greater Nashua would go hungry on a daily basis if not for charities such as the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter and programs such as the United Way’s Meals Matter.

Now, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., is blasting a Trump administration plan to kick nearly 700,000 Americans off the federal food stamp program.

“These cuts demonstrate a clear lack of care and concern for Americans who are struggling to put food on the table. This is especially true for workers in low-wage, undependable jobs or those in rural areas where gainful employment opportunities may be more limited,” Kuster said.

The move by the administration is the latest in its attempt to scale back the social safety net for low-income Americans. It is the first of three proposed rules targeting the Supplemental Nutrition Program, known as SNAP, to be finalized. The program feeds more than 36 million people.

The plan will limit states from exempting work-eligible adults from having to maintain steady employment in order to receive benefits.

The Agriculture Department estimates the change would save roughly $5.5 billion over five years and cut benefits for roughly 688,000 SNAP recipients. That’s down from its original estimate that 750,000 people would lose benefits.

“Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in announcing the plan.

Under current rules, work-eligible able-bodied adults without dependents and between the ages of 18 and 49 can currently receive only three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period if they don’t meet the 20-hour work requirement. But states with high unemployment rates or a demonstrable lack of sufficient jobs can waive those time limits.

The new rule imposes stricter criteria states must meet in order to issue waivers. Under the plan, states can only issue waivers if a city or county has an unemployment rate of 6% or higher. The waivers will be good for one year and will require the governor to support the request.

The final rule is expected to take effect in April.

“We want to encourage people by giving them a helping hand, but not an infinitely giving hand,” Perdue added.

During the past year the Agriculture Department has proposed three significant changes to the food stamp program. In addition to restricting time limit waivers, the USDA has proposed eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility, a measure that allows recipients of certain non-cash public benefits to automatically qualify for food stamps, and changing how utility costs are factored into benefit calculations.

The Urban Institute in a study released last month estimated that taken together, the three measures would affect roughly 2.2 million households, and 3.7 million individual beneficiaries.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blasted the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce public benefits.

“Instead of combating food insecurity for millions, connecting workers to good-paying jobs or addressing income inequality, the administration is inflicting their draconian rule on millions of Americans across the nation who face the highest barriers to employment and economic stability,” Pelosi said in a statement.

James D. Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, said the plan is “deeply flawed and ill-conceived” and would lead to higher rates of hunger and poverty.

“The final rule would cause serious harm to individuals, communities, and the nation while doing nothing to improve the health and employment of those impacted by the rule,” he said.

Kuster said about 74,000 New Hampshire residents received SNAP benefits in November.

“The rule recklessly casts people from the program without considering what economic, geographic, health, and other factors may contribute to their needing help putting food on the table. I hope that the president will re-think this unnecessary and cruel decision,” Kuster added.