Proposed change to SNAP could cut program benefits by $4.5B over 5 years

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Groups working to fight hunter in the state are carefully watching proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP.

The federal program helps low-income households access nutritious food.

The proposed rule change would eliminate flexibility at the state level to set utility allowances when figuring out the amount for SNAP benefits to give people, organizations say. There would be a standard federal rate.

Experts say it would cut program benefits by a total of $4.5 billion over five years.

According to an October release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the goal of the proposed rule is to replace the “patchwork of outdated approaches states currently use when assessing household utilities through the SNAP Standard Utility Allowance.”

“Americans have every right to expect a program like SNAP to operate fairly and consistently across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “Utility costs vary across the country, but the great discrepancies we see in SNAP allowances mean that folks living a few miles apart across state lines may see a big difference in their benefit amounts. We are working to improve integrity and fairness in our assistance programs.”

Experts from Feeding Texas, which is the statewide network of food banks working to end hunger, say Texas won’t be hit immediately, but still find the discussion over the rule change concerning.

“Immediately if the rule were to take effect, it would not impact Texas,” Feeding Texas CEO Celia Cole said. “It would be a minimal impact and in fact, some people could actually see their benefits increase slightly. But what we’re concerned about is that it’s eliminating flexibility in the years to come and it’s that if Texas wanted to put in place a higher utility allowance in the future, that was targeted and appropriate for Texas, it won’t be able to.”

Beth Corbett, director of advocacy and public policy at the Central Texas Food Bank, which oversees hunger relief efforts with the help of partner agencies in 21 counties within the region, says there’s always a constant need. Corbett worries that charitable organizations working to fight hunger won’t be able to compensate for any future cuts or eligibility changes, even if the impact won’t be immediate.

“The need is already greater than organizations like ours are able to fill,” she said.

The public comment window on the proposed rule closes Monday, Dec. 2.

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