Baltimore’s mayor, health commissioner and others on Thursday railed against a proposed change by the Trump administration that would change how states determine who qualifies for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the proposed change last month, intending to “preserve the integrity of the program” while cutting off SNAP benefits–known commonly as “food stamps”–for 3.1 million people and saving billions in the short term. Here in Baltimore, officials said it’s removing needed assistance to feed 15,000 of the 66,000 residents enrolled in the program, including nearly 2,900 households with senior residents.
“Deliberate measures to reduce SNAP will only increase hunger and place an additional burden on residents in our city and around the country who are already vulnerable,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said at a press conference this morning at the Zeta Center for Healthy and Active Aging, a senior center on Reisterstown Road.
Young is among 70 city mayors who signed a letter stating their “strong opposition” to the change, citing the large number of children and seniors who would suffer from such a change.
“Executive action should not be used to hurt individuals, families and communities,” they wrote, “and we urge you to abandon this proposal.”
Since 1996, federal rules have allowed states to use a “broad-based categorical eligibility” policy to increase income and asset eligibility limits to receive SNAP benefits. Maryland and around 40 other states rely on the policy to make residents automatically eligible for SNAP if they receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, known here as Temporary Cash Assistance.
Maryland is among a number of states that have raised the income threshold to up to 200 percent of the poverty limit–versus the federal maximum of 130 percent–for residents to qualify. That 200 percent figure works out to $42,660 per year for a family of three.
But U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a June announcement that he wants to get rid of that policy, calling it a “loophole.” Perdue said the change would stop “abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.”
Michael Wilson, director of the nonprofit Maryland Hunger Solutions, said calling it a loophole is incorrect.
“It is an efficient, effective way to make sure we use government resources for those who are eligible,” he said, adding, “We don’t need to change it now. We need to keep moving forward and making sure that we provide food and nutrition assistance for folks who are seniors, for the kids in school, for families all across the state.”
Wilson said statewide, roughly 50,000 people would lose access to SNAP.
Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa highlighted the particular threat food insecurity poses to seniors who would be cut off from SNAP. “For older adults… being on limited income means making trade-offs between buying food, paying for prescriptions or paying for rent. When people must make these choices, their health suffers.”
Dzirasa pointed to the domino effect for older adults with chronic conditions who wind up in nursing homes, saying it places a greater financial burden on their families and the health care system.
The change would also hurt local students and schools, officials said. Baltimore City Public Schools serves an estimated 90,000 meals daily, with SNAP being “the key basis for school meal reimbursement rates,” Young said.
The mayor similarly pointed to other domino effects, saying it would increase food insecurity for those students’ households, and could also hurt school eligibility for academic and other program funding.
The USDA is accepting public comments on its proposed change through Sept. 23.