Three proposals that would siphon funds away from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are underway. Here’s what you need to know about how each would affect Massachusetts.
Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds
Rule proposal published: October 2018
Status: Initially scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 15, but stalled by an injunction by a federal judge on Oct. 11.
This rule was created to make it more difficult for some low-income immigrants who receive benefits to secure permanent residency or a temporary visa. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the rule is to ensure immigrants do not become a “public charge” and “do not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities.”
Whether or not an immigrant receives SNAP benefits has historically not been a factor considered by the government when it determines whether someone is self-dependent. This rule would change that. In its proposal DHS said that “receipt of SNAP benefits indicates a lack of self-sufficiency in satisfying a basic living need, i.e., food and nutrition.”
The Boston Foundation estimated this rule could affect up to 510,000 Massachusetts residents, including 160,000 children. The confusion around this proposal has also created a “chilling effect,” advocates say, where people don’t access services they need out of fear of being deported.
Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Rule proposal published: July 24
Status: Comment period was extended, but then closed November 1.
Under this rule, the way some low-income households qualify for SNAP would change. In the status quo, households given Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grants automatically qualify for SNAP. This rule would break that link.
If the rule went through, the USDA estimated about a million children would no longer automatically receive school lunch. About 45 percent of those children would be able to reapply for benefits, but about 40,000 are projected to permanently lose reduced or free lunch status.
The USDA estimated the proposed changes to categorical eligibility would save the federal government about $90 million per year.
Project Bread, a statewide anti-hunger organization, estimated the rule would take away SNAP benefits from 90,000 Massachusetts residents.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances
Rule proposal published: October 3
Status: Comment period ends December 2.
Of the three, this proposed rule is expected to affect the most Massachusetts residents.
Under the current rule, the way “Standard Utility Allowance,” one of the factors in determining what amount of benefits a household will receive, is calculated varies state to state. According to the USDA, standardizing the calculation will improve the integrity of SNAP and make it more equitable. It would also save the federal government an estimated $4.5 billion over five years.
Advocates say the changes would disproportionately harm low-income households in states where the cost of energy is high, such as Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute estimated about 200,000 Massachusetts homes would lose about $50 in SNAP benefits per month under the rule.
Read more about this rule and its specific effects here.