Wolf’s State Human Services Secretary Denounces Measure
By J.D. Prose
Beaver County Times
Sept 23, 2019 – Calling the Trump administration’s proposed changes to a federal food assistance program “cruel and mean-spirited,” a cabinet secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that 200,000 Pennsylvanians could lose their benefits.
“The Wolf administration vehemently opposes this change,” said Pennsylvania Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller in a conference call with reporters about the possible changes to eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.
Miller’s department estimates that 2,544 Beaver County residents and 1,564 Lawrence County residents could lose their benefits under the plan.
President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed prohibiting states from raising or eliminating income limits that allows them to give federally-funded food benefits to people who would not otherwise qualify.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the change would save $2.5 billion a year, but supporters of the current system say it would hurt struggling low-income families, children, seniors and the disabled.
Trump administration officials have also argued that changing the rule would help reduce cases of fraud, but Miller said that in Pennsylvania the fraud rate in SNAP is just 1 percent and “lower than every other human services program.”
Miller said that a Pennsylvania family of four is eligible for SNAP benefits if it earns a maximum of $40,000 annually. However, under the Trump administration’s proposed change, that same family would only be allowed to earn $32,000 or less to be eligible, leaving many families without access to food.
“SNAP helps low-income families reliably keep food on the table without choosing between basic needs,” Miller said.
Besides the impact on families, the income eligibility limits would fall from $24,000 per year to $15,000 for elderly singles.
The change in eligibility rules would also have consequences for children who now receive free lunches, Miller said, with 22,600 households in Pennsylvania potentially affected.
Miller said SNAP is a “safety net” for low-income residents and reducing eligibility for it “will only increase hunger across Pennsylvania.”
If the Trump administration’s proposal is implemented, charitable food groups will not be able to “make up the difference,” Miller said.
“There is no back-up plan,” she said. “We need to stop these cuts because these are going to have a real impact on these families.”
In a 13-page letter to the administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, Miller and Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera II decried the proposed change, outlining in detail the effect it would have on vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
Another result of the change they said would be a loss in business for the state’s grocery stores, food-related companies and farmers’ markets.
Citing an anticipated loss of more than $100 million in SNAP benefits in Pennsylvania, the two secretaries said the state could lose nearly 1,300 food industry jobs if the eligibility rule is changed.
“This loss of jobs potentially impacts the working families who may be the first to lose their SNAP benefits and then subsequently lose their job, creating a bigger cliff for individuals,” Miller and Rivera’s letter said.