Wolf administration warns against proposed SNAP cuts

Executive Director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank Joe Arthur (center) speaks during a roundtable discussion on proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Harrisburg on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (Rachel McDevitt/WITF)

Executive Director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank Joe Arthur (center) speaks during a roundtable discussion on proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Harrisburg on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (Rachel McDevitt/WITF)

The Wolf administration is warning two Trump administration proposals would jeopardize food assistance for more than one million Pennsylvanians.

“No one can fill the void of SNAP,” said Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, referring to the  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps. “SNAP is just such a huge program. It touches so many lives.”

Miller gathered government officials, charitable organizations, retailers, and a SNAP recipient for a roundtable discussion on the proposals at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank on Monday.

More than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians use SNAP and the program contributes $2.5 billion dollars to the state’s economy.

Representatives from area food pantries told Miller they are already stretched thin and would struggle to accommodate more hungry families if they lose their SNAP benefits. Grocery retailers said they are worried about losing business from SNAP recipients, which could make it harder a business that operates on narrow margins.

Jason, from Lykens, Dauphin County, didn’t want to give his last name because of the stigma he says comes with taking government benefits.

He started getting SNAP after a workplace injury left him unable to work.

He said he now gets about $40 per month for his family of six.

“It’s, like, almost impossible. That might get my kids a meal for two days.” Jason said. “I challenge anyone to go out and eat on a $40 budget.”

Jason said his benefits have been cut over the last few years, even as his household income has also declined.

He’s worried more cuts will mean his kids won’t be eligible for school lunch programs.

“It’s just way too much stress for somebody,” Jason said. “I worked all my life hard, I did what I was supposed to do. And then for me to get hurt and then just have everything flip over like this, it’s awful. It stinks. It’s not fair.”

In December, the Trump administration finalized a rule that imposes tougher work requirements for SNAP recipients. That will go into effect in April and could impact about 90,000 Pennsylvanians.

Miller noted similar language on work requirements had been included in the 2018 federal Farm Bill, but Congress ultimately stripped it from the legislation. At that time, the proposed change was packaged with funding for job training.

“What the Trump administration is doing with this rule came with absolutely no resources for states,” Miller said. “So, we’re just kicking people off of SNAP but we’re not actually investing in them or helping them to get a job in any way, we’re just saying ‘go get a job.’”

Two proposed rules would alter the method Pennsylvania uses to consider utility bills when determining monthly SNAP benefits and eliminate a policy that gives state flexibility to determine income thresholds for the program.

The Trump administration has defended the proposed cuts by saying they will save taxpayer dollars.

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