It’s unclear how many Georgians could be affected by a proposed change to food stamp eligibility that the Trump administration says will close a loophole in enrollment that it says would save the federal government billions of dollars.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which manages the country’s food stamp program, proposed a rule this week that would add a step for those who receive minimal assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — also known as welfare — and apply for assistance with groceries.
The agency estimates the change would save the federal government about $2.5 billion a year.
Currently, those who receive welfare are automatically eligible to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Under the new rule, recipients who receive TANF benefits would need to go through a different screening process to receive food stamp benefits as well.
The USDA said states can classify a household as receiving welfare if it is provided “nominal benefits,” which the agency defines as an informational brochure describing social services or access to hotline numbers. The agency said those benefits are given without requiring a recipient to meet eligibility standards for cash assistance or food stamps. The federal government said 3.1 million people nationally fit that description.
Atlanta Community Food Bank President and CEO Kyle Waide called the new proposal concerning, saying it would negatively affect those who are working but still near poverty.
“We support a strong food stamp program so that children, seniors and working families can put food on the table when they’re facing tough times,” he said.
As of May, there were about 10,000 households receiving welfare benefits in Georgia. At the end of March, there were nearly 1.38 million people receiving food stamps. The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services does not track how many of those who receive welfare are automatically eligible for food stamps.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, said allowing those who receive welfare to automatically be eligible for food stamps can grant benefits to those who don’t really need them.
“It’s our job to ensure the people who truly need food assistance receive what they’re entitled to,” Perdue said. “People need to qualify for SNAP in the same way everyone else must qualify.”
Alex Camardelle, a senior analyst with the left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said the proposed changes could “reinforce poverty further.”
“These proposed rigid standards will punish those who make modest increases in earnings and disincentivize opportunities for economic mobility by creating a ‘cliff effect,’ where slightly higher wages lead to an overall financial setback,” he said.