Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif)
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) led his Democratic colleagues from the California Congressional Delegation in calling on the administration to stop a proposed rule to restrict states’ flexibility in administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California.This proposal, which limits states’ ability to set their own Standard Utility Allowances (SUAs) based on local experience with utility costs, would reduce benefits for nineteen percent of SNAP recipient households nationwide, and as many as 8,000 households could lose eligibility altogether. This proposed rulemaking would also disproportionately impact working families, the elderly and people with disabilities.
“Low income Californians rely on CalFresh,” said Congressman Panetta. “By taking away our state’s ability to take into account local utility benefits to determine SNAP benefits, the administration is forcing families to choose between putting food on their table and keeping the heat on in their homes.”
“As members of the California delegation, we are particularly troubled that this proposed rulemaking is the third action this year in a series of attacks against states’ authority to administer SNAP, known as CalFresh in our communities,” the members wrote. “As you receive and review the next set of public comments over the coming days and weeks, we urge you to reconsider all three proposals, which combined, are estimated to negatively impact over a million Californians, more than a quarter of the SNAP recipients in our state. We also urge you to think critically about the precedent established by these proposed changes when it comes to states’ rights in our democracy.”
“Our communities grow the fresh fruits and vegetables that feed the world,” said Willy Elliott-McCrea, Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County CEO. “But with our extremely high cost of living, including housing, utilities and other basic necessities, we know that children, seniors and working families still face hunger. Our food bank works hard to connect eligible families to SNAP, and every day we see the incredible value of this program. Locally, our County estimates that this proposal would cut benefits for two-thirds of SNAP households and create costly administrative burdens for our County partners. This would undermine our mission to end hunger, and we are proud to stand with Congressman Panetta in opposing this change.”
“Deductions play an important role in SNAP. They take into account the fact that not all of a household’s income is available for purchasing food, because some income must be used to meet other household needs, like utility expenses,” says Jessica Bartholow, a Policy Advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Changing the current rule is estimated to cut 4.5 billion from low-income SNAP recipients in 5 years. This cut is unwarranted and cruel, especially considering SNAP benefits are already inadequate to prevent hunger at the end of the month.”
“California food banks are on the frontlines of hunger and see first-hand the inhumane trade-offs that low-income families make between food and other basic needs like high utility bills,” said Andrew Cheyne, Director of Government Affairs for the California Association of Food Banks. “USDA’s own analysis estimates that this will cut benefits for a quarter of all SNAP households in California – one million people. Cuts like this have real consequences: for every meal the charitable sector provides, SNAP delivers nine, and food banks and our partners cannot make up the difference. If this rule is enacted, people will go hungry just to keep cool during scorching summers and warm in winter.”
“Announcing such a cruel policy during the Jewish community’s holiest time of year dramatically reminds us of the failure of this Administration to act with common decency, let alone higher values,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “This latest assault on SNAP is both vicious and vindictive. It seeks to punish struggling Americans who are only trying to keep their families fed and warm during the winter months. In California, it will throw literally over one million Californians into hunger, including some of our most vulnerable neighbors: veterans, military families, seniors, Native Americans, and college students. As an organization headquartered in California, we are proud of the leadership of Representatives Panetta, Lee, Costa, and so many others in calling on USDA to rescind this short-sighted proposal. We are proud to stand with them as we continue to fight for the millions of Americans who struggle with hunger every day.”
“SNAP is under attack for the third time this year,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). “The Trump administration’s latest proposed rule would force many more low-income households to choose between heating their homes or putting food on the table. SNAP serves as the first line of defense against hunger and the Administration should be looking to strengthen its positive impacts on health and economic activity, not cutting already-meager benefits. FRAC joins with the Members of the California congressional delegation in opposing this most recent attack on food assistance for hungry people.”
The full letter can be read below.
Dear Secretary Perdue,
We write to you expressing serious concerns with the latest Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposal to restrict states’ flexibility in administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This proposal, which limits states’ ability to set their own Standard Utility Allowances (SUAs) based on local experience with utility costs, would reduce benefits for nineteen percent of SNAP recipient households nationwide, and as many as 8,000 households could lose eligibility altogether. This proposed rulemaking would also disproportionately impact working families, the elderly and people with disabilities.
As members of the California delegation, we are particularly troubled that this proposed rulemaking is the third action this year in a series of attacks against states’ authority to administer SNAP, known as CalFresh in our communities. CalFresh beneficiaries count on a federal food assistance program that takes into consideration the high cost of living, including households’ energy costs, in communities across the state. As their representatives in Congress, we have worked hard to ensure low-income residents do not have to choose between paying for food or keeping their heat or electricity turned on.
Current policy allows states flexibility to determine how they calculate utility costs and rates. The proposed change would standardize these calculations and set the SUA to an amount lower than what would be needed to meet the costs of utilities for many Californians. Unsurprisingly, low-income Californians spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy.
The proposed rule does not provide any evidence with respect to why this approach is preferable to California or any other state’s methodology – methodologies that the USDA has reviewed and approved for more than thirty years. The USDA simply asserts that this change is preferable, despite the fact that it would result in fewer food benefits for millions of low-income Americans.
This most recent proposed rulemaking follows a USDA proposal to eliminate states’ authority to use broad-based categorical eligibility to determine SNAP eligibility, along with a proposal to limit states’ ability to waive work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents. Together, the previous two administrative changes received over 200,000 comments, including a comment letter outlining serious concerns from each of the undersigned Members of the California Congressional Delegation. Unfortunately, USDA has ignored this public outcry and continued with an agenda to weaken support systems for low-income Americans who are working hard to elevate their economic status.
Additionally, the Administration has proposed deep cuts to SNAP in its three budget proposals and, during 2018 Farm Bill negotiations, endorsed policy proposals that, if enacted, would have pushed millions of Americans off food assistance. We are disappointed that the USDA has now turned to rulemaking to pursue policy changes that Congress has consistently rejected.
We are equally disappointed that, while this Administration touts its support for working families and for states’ rights, each proposal to cut SNAP benefits is built on limiting states’ authority to take into consideration the costs of living in their communities when administering SNAP.
As you receive and review the next set of public comments over the coming days and weeks, we urge you to reconsider all three proposals, which combined, are estimated to negatively impact over a million Californians, more than a quarter of the SNAP recipients in our state. We also urge you to think critically about the precedent established by these proposed changes when it comes to states’ rights in our democracy. Ultimately, we ask that you act to quickly rescind each of these proposals and instead work alongside Congress to prevent hunger in our communities – in California and across the country.