About 1 in 10 Texas households that receive monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, better known as food stamps, could lose their eligibility if a newly proposed federal regulation is implemented.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed "closing a loophole… that has expanded SNAP recipients in some states to include people who receive assistance when they clearly don’t need it," according to a release from the federal agency that administers the program.
The loophole that the USDA refers to involves states, including Texas, making more people eligible to receive SNAP benefits than federal guidelines require.
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"For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
In Texas, 1,472,529 households received SNAP benefits last month, according to figures released by the state. Each household received an average benefit of $260.
In order to be eligible for SNAP benefits, an applicant in Texas can make no more than 165% of the federal poverty level. According to a report in The Texas Tribune, that is approximately $42,000 for a family of four. If the rule change goes through, that same family can make no more than $33,000 in order to remain eligible for food stamps.
In addition to income, both the state and the USDA take assets like the SNAP applicant’s car into consideration for whether they are eligible for benefits or not. Currently in Texas, a SNAP applicant will not be eligible if their car is valued at more than $15,000. Under the new proposal, that value would drop to $4,600.
This USDA proposal is a real concern for organizations like the North Texas Food Bank, which helps distribute food and other assistance to more than 200 nonprofits in 13 local counties.
"Anytime there is a threat to the SNAP program we are concerned, because we know that SNAP is the first line of defense when it comes to hunger in so many of our community members," said Dr. Valerie Hawthorne of the North Texas Food Bank. "We are very concerned that our community members will not get that nutritious food that they need, because if you lose your benefits you may have to make tough decisions in other places, such as medical costs, childcare costs and other tough choices."
The medical staff at a Dallas health clinic for low income individuals also expressed concern for their clientele.
“SNAP benefits are a critical resource for many of our patients and their families. Many adults that we see in our clinic are suffering from chronic diseases that can be prevented with nutritious food – diabetes, heart disease and hypertension are very common here in North Texas,” said Dr. Lindsay Martin-Engel, the Associate Medical Director of Foremost Family Health Centers. “Managing those illnesses depends on patients making healthy food choices. When patients are on a tight budget for food, it becomes harder to choose the right kinds of foods. I am concerned that if my patients lose SNAP benefits, it would be a big step backwards for their health.”