Senators: Don’t cut food-stamp eligibility

    Food stamps sign
    Photo by Cosmocatalano, licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0

    U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) was one of 15 senators who sent a letter Monday calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to scrap plans to narrow who qualifies for SNAP benefits, commonly referred to as food stamps.

    The USDA announced in July it would limit “broad-based categorical eligibility” under SNAP, short for Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program. At the time, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue claimed states had “misused” their ability to automatically extend SNAP to some beneficiaries of welfare programs.

    Sen. Tammy Baldwin
    Sen. Tammy Baldwin

    In Monday’s letter, Baldwin and her colleagues—14 Democrats along with Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont—rejected Perdue’s assertion that states had overstepped their bounds: “Contrary to assertions in the proposed rule, this policy is not the result of accidental expansion of state authority or variation in program implementation,” the letter stated. 

    The senators’ letter called broad-based categorical eligibility “a well-established policy that has been utilized by nearly every state in the country for over two decades”—and currently, by more than 40—“in order to smooth the benefits cliff for working families, allow modest assets for emergencies and reduce the administrative and paperwork burden on individuals and state agencies.”

    The letter called to task the Trump administration for its failure “to conduct an accurate regulatory impact assessment” and pointed to a briefing to Congressional staff at which USDA officials said at least 500,000 children “would lose access to school meals.” This finding was missing from the USDA’s written analysis of the rule.

    The authors pointed out that in the 2018 Farm Bill, passed with a “historic” bipartisan vote and signed by President Donald Trump,” Congress deliberately chose to exclude any changes to categorical eligibility due to the devastating impact such changes could have on families.”

    “This rule is yet another example of the Trump Administration ignoring Congressional intent and proposing a self-initiated, flawed rule that will take food assistance away from millions of Americans, disproportionately affecting children, seniors and working families,” the senators wrote.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.


    1. There needs to be cleanup of the Food Stamp program. It should be limited to non-taxable food items only.

      Legislation is needed to update the Food Stamp program. Too often, I see people purchasing non-essential items using their EBT cards; enery drinks, soda, and chips, to name a few. If the program was limited to non-taxable food items only, families would be assured the nutritional food the program was meant to provide. This would be a relatively easy fix since the stores, here in Wisconsin, already know which food items are non-taxable and could flag items that do not qualify. The customer would have to pay for these items using other means; cash, debit or credit.

      With the introduction of EBT cards, the stigma of using food stamps is no longer a deterent which makes non-nutritional items a priority in too many instances.


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