25,000 in Wisconsin could lose food share assistance if proposal for new eligibility rules passes
MADISON, Wis. — Karen Battle knows what it’s like to constantly worry about where her next meal is coming from.
“I know the effects of not having enough food. I know what it’s going to do to people. It makes them do things they normally wouldn’t do,” she said.
Battle is one of thousands in Wisconsin who could potentially lose benefits of the food share assistance program.
A new federal proposal under the Trump administration would limit access to food stamps by imposing new eligibility requirements. If the proposal passes, it could affect more than 3 million people nationwide.
Critics, like the president and CEO of The River Food Pantry, Charles McLimans, say it will hurt the country’s most vulnerable population.
“We believe food is a right and not a privilege,” McLimans said. ”They are families that are working. They are families with children. They are seniors.”
McLimans said more than 1,000 households get food from The River Food Pantry every week. McLimans fears that if the proposal is approved, the demand for food will increase at his pantry.
“We are already doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and it would increase the number of people that we would see here. It would be difficult to manage,” McLimans said.
Under the current law, most states allow automatic eligibility for people to receive food stamps if they meet the requirements under another program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
In order for people to qualify under the new proposal, people would need to receive at least $50 a month in benefits from TANF for a minimum of six months.
In Wisconsin, more than 300,000 households participate in the food share program. Many of the participants are children.
The federal government is proposing the changes as a way to manage the budget. The proposed changes could save nearly $2.5 billion.
Supporters of the proposal say this could be a way to reduce the number of people taking advantage of the system. U.S Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement: “For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the possible changes would close this “loophole” that allows people who receive only minimal benefits through TANF to be automatically eligible for food assistance without going through a more complex vetting process, evaluating a person’s income and basic expenses.
Battle said this could hurt people who heavily rely on food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) .
“When you have to spend all your cash on food and pay rent and bills, there’s nothing left over. You can’t buy anything, you can’t save anything,” Battle said. “It hurts your heart that you can’t feed your child.”
McLimans said he believes this will be more detrimental to the people than it will be beneficial for the government.
“There have been independent studies of the entire SNAP system, and the amount of fraud that is in the system, they’ve estimated is less than 2%,” McLimans said.
“Nobody chooses to be this way. Our circumstances put us this way,” Battle added.
If the proposal is approved and the rules are implemented, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Medicaid Director, Jim Jones, said it is important for those affected to know what steps to take to ensure they can get all the help they need. Jones said for those who currently are receiving benefits through SNAP who also have children: “If you lose your food share eligibility, you have to apply for that program separately. It means you have to fill out an application that goes back to school and make sure your kid can continue to receive those school programs that help them so that they aren’t hungry in class.”
The proposal is not yet in place, and public comment on the issue is welcome until September. Jones said if the proposal is approved, “We will make sure that if it passes and it actually put into place, we will make sure that everybody knows about it who would be affected and make sure that it’s clear what information people will have to provide to us in addition to the information they’re already providing. We will also make sure that we are applying it absolutely as strictly as we possible can to make sure there are individuals out there who can still benefit from broad based categorical eligibility, we will make sure that they do.”
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