The Trump administration failed to reveal that more than 500,000 children would lose access to free school meals under its proposed overhaul of the food stamp program, according to a letter House Democrats wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
The new proposal, unveiled last week, would limit access to food stamps and cut more than three million people from the federal program. However, the administration did not include the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) estimate that more than 500,000 children would automatically lose eligibility for free school meals under the change, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, wrote.
Scott said his committee was briefed about the policy change and the USDA’s estimates on July 22. When the policy was announced in the public Federal Register, the estimates on free school meals were not included.
Scott told Perdue in the letter that his department’s failure to include the potential impact on free school lunches violated procedure — an executive order requires the department include relevant scientific and technical findings.
“The effect on school meal eligibility represents an important technical finding that must be made public so stakeholders have the opportunity to comment on all aspects of the rule’s impact,” Scott wrote.
Children whose families receive assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are automatically enrolled in a federal program offering free breakfast and lunch at schools. According to NBC News, the programs are linked to ensure children receive the food assistance they are eligible for.
Under the policy change, an estimated 93 percent of the 500,000 children who would lose eligibility for free school meals would be eligible for reduced price meals. Schools can charge up to 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch under the reduced-priced meal program.
However, advocates said that families would be required to apply for this assistance and that some qualified children would not receive the aid they qualify for due to paperwork requirements. Some families may also not be able to afford the reduced cost meals.
“The proposed rule does not in any way modify the school meals eligibility standards Congress has provided in statute. All children who qualify for school meals under the standards Congress provided would continue to receive free or reduced price meals based on those respective standards,” a USDA spokesperson told The North Star in an email. “It is Congress’ job to write those eligibility standards and the USDA’s job to ensure they are carried out with integrity.”
The spokesperson continued: “Instead, this rule ensures SNAP benefits go to those who meet the eligibility criteria as outlined by Congress, not millionaires or those who simply received a referral to a non-working 800 number.”
The agency acknowledged in a statement to ABC News that “a change in eligibility rules for SNAP could impact the use of direct certification of SNAP participants for free school meals. However, individual families are able to submit applications for free and reduced priced meals at any time, regardless of SNAP participation.”
Scott asked that Perdue confirm the estimate that the committee was told and requested the secretary “provide an explanation of why the impact of school meal eligibility was not included in the [Regulatory Impact Analysis] published in the Federal Register.” The congressman also requested the proposed rule be edited to include the estimate and that, after the revision is published, the 60-day comment period be restarted.
The new rule proposed by the Department of Agriculture last week would cut automatic enrollment in the SNAP program for low-income families receiving welfare benefits. It would close what some consider a loophole in a number of states that allows individuals with savings and other assets to receive food stamps.
Families with assets valued at more than $3,500 or incomes above 130 percent of the federal poverty line would be disqualified from receiving food stamps under the new rule. Those families would only be eligible for food stamps if they receive assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for more than six months.
The change would reduce food stamp spending by approximately $2.5 billion a year, Reuters reported. Republicans argue that many food stamp recipients do not need the federal assistance and that fraud is rampant in the system.
“Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” Perdue said in a statement on July 23. “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.”
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.