Opinion editor’s note: This article was submitted by leaders of multiple organizations involved in food and nutritional support. They are listed below.
Paolo and Joel, of St. Paul, applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to help feed their family when Joel was injured and forced to take time off work. After he recovered, Joel began working two jobs, seven days a week, to make ends meet. Yet the rising costs of rent and child care meant that the couple, despite their long workdays, still needed SNAP to give their kids nutritious, fresh food — something all parents want to provide for their families.
New rules proposed by the Trump administration threaten the food assistance used by Paolo, Joel, and at least 15,000 other working parents, seniors and Minnesotans with disabilities. Across the country, more than 3 million people would be stripped of the benefits currently keeping food on their tables.
If enacted, these rules will increase hunger in Minnesota by tightening eligibility requirements and curbing a provision that simplifies how SNAP is delivered.
Families making between 130% and 165% of the federal poverty level — or between about $27,000 and $34,000 a year for a family of three — currently qualify for $110 a month in food assistance through SNAP. This small amount helps but is still not enough on its own to cover the grocery bill each month. Despite the continued need, the new proposed limit means Minnesota families would no longer qualify for any assistance until they fell below the $27,000 threshold.
In addition, a family’s assets could now be counted against their SNAP eligibility, meaning that most will be forced to drain their savings entirely before they can access SNAP. This move is counterproductive and especially harmful to Minnesota’s seniors, as it will deplete families’ hard-earned nest eggs and make it harder for the elderly to live independently.
Finally, eliminating the “broad-based categorical eligibility” provision will decrease participation in SNAP by complicating the application process for families who are already enrolled in other federal anti-poverty programs. State and local governments will face increased costs as they are forced to retrain employees and modify systems to respond to program changes.
Despite headlines proclaiming our country’s strong economy, wages have not kept up with costs of living. Increasing numbers of Minnesotans need food assistance, as too many of us don’t have access to the resources needed to weather a rough patch — like a lost job or illness.
Changes to SNAP eligibility do not just impact individual families; the ripple effects would be felt throughout our community. SNAP infused an estimated $550 million into Minnesota’s economy in 2018, benefiting the more than 3,500 stores and farmers markets whose customers use SNAP benefits to help pay for groceries. The connection between hunger and health also means that these new rules could add up to $77 billion in health care costs, nationwide, as providers struggle to treat illnesses exacerbated by food insecurity. Any savings from this proposed rule change would remain in the short term as we struggled to absorb the negative economic impact moving forward.
Young Minnesotans will also face the lasting consequences of these new rules. We already know that hungry kids cannot learn, but now we are looking at a future in which an additional 18,000 Minnesota kids will struggle to reach their full potential. Schools could lose funding for free breakfast and lunch for students in need if the proposed changes move forward. The long-term benefits of SNAP for children, including improved health outcomes and high-school graduation rates, will be jeopardized.
SNAP is a vital safety-net program that supports our neighbors through tough times and can help boost families out of poverty. These rule changes mean more kids will go to bed hungry, more parents will stay up late worrying about where their next meal is coming from and Minnesota’s already-strained hunger relief network will be left to try to fill the gaps. We stand with our partners in the public and private sector against this administration’s proposed SNAP changes. Minnesotans still have time to comment on these rules, and we hope readers will visit Feeding America’s comment page (tinyurl.com/fa-comment) and make their voices heard before the public feedback period ends on Sept. 23.
This article was signed by: Allison O’Toole, CEO, Second Harvest Heartland; Virginia Merritt, executive director, Channel One Regional Food Bank; Colleen Moriarty, executive director, Hunger Solutions; Sue Estee, executive director, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank; Dr. Craig Samitt, CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota; Vickie Speltz, president, Minnesota School Nutrition Association; Shaye Moris, executive director, Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank; Susie Novak, executive director, North Country Food Bank; Melissa Sobolik, president, Great Plains Food Bank; and Lori Thorpe, executive director, the Food Group.