WASHINGTON (CN) – Despite warnings that the move will hurt the poor, the Trump administration pushed a proposal Tuesday that it says will make sure only the truly needy are eligible for food stamps.
While predictably generating criticism from groups like the left-leaning Center for American Progress, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office advised against the move as well in 2016, saying it could “eliminate benefits for many households in difficult financial situations, including some people below the federal poverty level.”
The CBO report warned that other important considerations are the increased paperwork for those applying to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for benefits, and the delayed access that applicants will likely face.
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the failure of program to track assets as well as income has allowed it to be exploited by those who “clearly don’t need it.”
Minnesota-based millionaire Rob Undersander spoke to the possibility in April this year when he told a legislative committee in his state that he received $6,000 from the program after enrolling in the program to prove its wastefulness.
According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, the committee hearing was full of gasps as Undersander explained how he gamed the system, fully appreciating there would be no way for the state to prosecute him under the law.
“I have obviously gotten your attention,” he told legislators.
U.S. markets responded quickly to Tuesdays’s proposal, with shares in low-cost supermarkets Dollar General and Dollar Tree, reliably heavy recipients of SNAP dollars, down 1.6% and 2.3% respectively.
The rule change is currently open for public comment.
“Trump’s continued assaults on struggling workers and families, coupled with his tax law written to help the extremely rich, make his real priority clear: taking from those who have the least to give to those who have the most,” said Ben Olinsky, senior vice president of policy and strategy at the Center for American Progress.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the rule change would address SNAP recipients ability to bypass important eligibility guidelines and target states which have “misused this flexibility without restraint.”
“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,” Perdue said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
Further details provided by the agency say the change will create a more consistent nationwide policy, link the SNAP benefits to other benefit programs, and streamline the program’s administration to make sure benefits are “targeted to the appropriate households.”
About 12% of the U.S. population, or 40 million people, rely on SNAP benefits. A CBO report from last year put 2019 program costs at about $59 billion.
President Donald Trump has long advocated for a reduction in the program. His attempt to reduce its funding during last winter’s budget negotiations were denied by congress.
The left-leaning Center of American Progress said Trump’s tax cuts, passed at the end of 2017, lead to $84 billion going back into the pockets of the wealthy in 2019 alone, about $25 billion more than the annual cost of SNAP.
A fact sheet from the Agriculture Department says the rule change would kick out about 3.1 million users, saving taxpayers about $2.5 billion a year.