21 August 2017

Crook Fellow Cassie Davis details the effects of the Trump administration's budget proposal will have on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), using insights gleaned from her work for Bread for the World:

SNAP faces budget cut proposals every year, but the Trump administration takes its first hit at the effective food assistance program. It threatens a wide range of Americans through significant structural changes to the working program. 

The Great Depression yielded a variety of welfare programs, including the highly effective Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly referred to as food stamps. The program was designed to be fully funded by the federal government and structured in a way so anyone across the country has equal access to SNAP benefits. SNAP can expand during times of economic downturn, such as the most recent recession, and the program contracts during times of prosperity. In Washington D.C., the Hill is gearing up for a markup of the 2018 budget. The Trump budget, which proposes $193 billion dollar cut to SNAP, threatens not only the funding, but the integrity of the SNAP program.

Trump’s budget proposes to reduce the federal share of cost of SNAP benefits from 100% to 75%, while the states would have to pick up the remaining 25% by 2023, a cost shift of over $100 billion to states over 10 years.4 The proposal does not include any provisions to hold states accountable to provide a minimum spending amount, giving states the ability to lawfully zero out the SNAP program entirely. States are already experiencing tight budgets. If states cannot sustain current funding levels, states will be forced to raise eligibility requirements, reduce the benefit, or a both. Under this proposal, states such as Texas, would have to allot at least 1.3 million (25% of SNAP funding) to have the federal government match funding for the program at its current level of 5.3 million.1,4 By restructuring the funding of SNAP, 8 million households stand to lose their benefits weakening the effectiveness of SNAP to provide food assistance to low-income families.

The President’s budget proposes the elimination of broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) for the SNAP program. BBCE is used by some states to determine the eligibility of SNAP recipients by (1) meeting the program-specific federal eligibility requirements based on gross monthly income and assets limits or (2) by being deemed automatically eligible to apply for SNAP by qualifying for other low-income assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). States have the autonomy to adjust income and asset levels to provide benefits for their specific populations and economies. Many states have eliminated the asset limit and increased the gross income eligibility limit. Currently, 70% of SNAP household were identified as categorically eligible.6 Elimination of BBCE, will threaten 2 million SNAP families and lead to several hundred children losing free school lunches.2 It will hurt families’ ability to grow savings and pushes individuals who receive a pay raise out of benefit eligibility. BBCE simplifies the eligibility process for SNAP, reduces state workloads, and helps to customize SNAP to better serve a states’ population.

Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs) are another group targeted by the Trump 2018 budget. ABAWDs are adults 18-49 who are not mentally or physically disabled, pregnant, or have a child in their home. This group is demographically diverse and extremely poor with an average income is 17% of the poverty line.5 Many face other barriers such as access to healthcare, undiagnosed mental or physical disabilities, and low levels of education and skills. Already ABAWDs are limited to 3 months of SNAP during any 36-month period.

However, states can apply for time limit waivers. The Trump budget would allow only time limit waivers for areas with greater than 10% unemployment and eliminate the minimum benefit. Both will hurt ABAWDs significantly. It is expected that 1 million will lose benefits under the 10% unemployment standard and ABAWDs will see their benefits reduced below the minimum $16 dollars per month or eliminated.3

SNAP serves a wide range of Americans from individuals, families, elderly and disabled. The resilience of the program for almost 90 years despite countless attempts to cut its funding shows that SNAP works. The ability of the program to provide food assistance for low-income Americans shows that SNAP matters. The Trump budget takes the most recent swing at dismantling a working federal program. Members of Congress have assured advocates these changes won’t be seen, but until the budget is done these options are on the table. The 2018 budget, the first of 4, sets the tone for future cuts the Trump administration will target. Many Americans face the loss of benefits if Congress considers even one of these changes to SNAP, which would be detrimental to the health and well-being of our most vulnerable populations.

  • Endnotes:
    1. Center for American Progress, Data: Nutrition assistance cuts by state and congressional district, May 23, 2017, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2017/05/23/432845/8-ways-trump-budget-threatens-health-safety-american-families/

    2. Dorothy Rosenbaum, Brynne Keith-Jennings, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Report: “House 2017 Budget Plan Would Slash SNAP by More Than $150 Billion Over Ten Years,” March 21, 2016 http://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/3-21-16snap.pdf

    3. Dottie Rosenbaum, Ed Bolen, Elizabeth Wolkomir, Brynne Keith-Jennings, Lexin Cai, and Catlin Nchako, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Report: “Administration’s 2018 Budget Would Severely Weaken and Cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” May, 31, 2017, http://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/administrations-2018-budget-would-severely-weaken-and-cut-the-supplemental

    4. Michael Leachman, Dottie Rosenbaum, and Elizabeth Wolkomir, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Report: “President Trump’s Budget Would Shift SNAP Costs to States, Increasing Risk of Hunger and Weakening Response to Recessions,” June 13, 2017, http://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/president-trumps-budget-would-shift-snap-costs-to-states-increasing

    5. Steven Carlson, Dorothy Rosenbaum, Brynne Keith-Jennings, Center for Budget and Public Priorities, Report: “Who Are the Low-Income Childless Adults Facing the Loss of SNAP in 2016?,” February, 8, 2016, https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/who-are-the-low-income-childless-adults-facing-the-loss-of-snap-in-2016

    6. USDA, Data: Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program Households: Fiscal Year: 2015, November 11, 2016, https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/Characteristics2015.pdf

    7. Kevork Djansezian/Getty, Photo: http://www.thedailybeast.com/with-house-win-gop-pushes-food-stamp-cuts-to-the-far-right