Legislators urge administration to reverse proposed SNAP changes

Published 4:44 pm Friday, August 9, 2019

According to Statistical Atlas, more than 32 percent of Dallas County residents currently receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, marking one of the highest rate of recipients in Alabama.

Under a proposed rule change by President Donald Trump’s administration, many of those recipients could be at risk of losing those benefits.

For that reason, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, led a contingent of 19 senators and 120 representatives in drafting a letter Thursday to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue urging him to rescind his department’s “disastrous rules,” which would strip an estimated 3.1 million Americans of their SNAP benefits.

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“This plan would disproportionately punish working families who are already struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet,” the letter stated. “Families with children are more likely to face food insecurity and, in 2017, the number of families facing food insecurity rose for the first time since the Great Recession.”

The letter goes on to state that schools rely on SNAP enrollment when determining eligibility for free and reduced school lunches, meaning that household could be penalized twice under the rule – once with the loss of household benefits and again by losing access to free school meals.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Perdue’s own department, some 500,000 children will lose eligibility for free school meals under the proposed changes.

Explaining that fraud in the program is “virtually non-existent,” the legislators blasted the administration’s claim that some states allow ineligible families to receive SNAP benefits.

“Families must already go through a robust vetting process to verify income eligibility,” the letter states. “USDA’s assertion that families can simply receive an informational brochure in order to qualify for SNAP is simply not true. Perpetuating this lie breeds distrust in a successful program that lifted 8.4 million people out of poverty in 2015. In reality, fraud is virtually non-existent this program: just 0.2 percent of benefits mistakenly go to households with net incomes above the poverty line.”

Of the more than $84 million the Alabama Department of Human Resources (ADHR) hands out in SNAP benefits each year, more than $1.4 million goes to Dallas County – 32.58 percent of households in Selma receive benefits under the program, 32.43 percent receive benefits in Orrville, 29.57 percent in the Selmont-Tyler area receive benefits, 33.5 percent in Sardis and 43.84 percent in Carlowville receive SNAP benefits.

According to Barry Spear, Public Information Manager for the ADHR, the department is “unable to determine how many people would be affected by the proposed changes” because the department does not currently know what “assets” its clients have.

The Dallas County Department of Human Resources office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.