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New Policy to put SNAP Benefits in Jeopardy

September 1, 2019, 9:03 AM HST
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Roughly 14,000 Hawai‘i residents would lose their food stamps and access to other benefit programs, such as free school lunch, if a new proposal by the Trump administration goes into effect, according to the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

Further economic consequences would be the loss of an estimated $3.4 million per year that’s spent at grocery stores and other food retailers across the state, a release said.

The proposed rule would change the way Hawai‘i and many other states determine eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Under what’s known as broad-based categorical eligibility—which the Trump Administration seeks to eliminate—residents of states with high costs of living, such as Hawai‘i, can qualify for food assistance even if their income is higher than the standard federal eligibility cut-off. In Hawai‘i, that means that many households with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty line, or $59,240 a year for a family of four, are able to qualify for SNAP.

“The proposed rule would take food assistance away from the poorest households in Hawai‘i and would put pressure on all hunger-relief organizations, including Hawai‘i Foodbank,” said Ron Mizutani, President and CEO of Hawai‘i Foodbank. “SNAP plays such a critical role in addressing hunger in our communities, including schools, and it is unlikely we could keep pace with the increase in needs.”

SNAP eligibility also triggers access to additional food benefits, such as free school meals, at both the individual student and school-wide levels. Currently, thousands of Hawai‘i K-12 students automatically qualify for free school meals because their families receive SNAP benefits, the release continued.

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Fifty-two schools across the state are providing free meals to all of their students because high levels of SNAP and other public benefit participation among their students qualify the entire school for a special provision. If enough families lose their SNAP benefits, an entire school could lose its eligibility for universal free meals, the release continued.

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In addition, Hawai‘i is about to launch a new SNAP Double Up Food Bucks program, which provides a
dollar-for-dollar match for every SNAP dollar spent on Hawai‘i-grown fresh produce. It’s a triple win for local families, farmers and the economy, the release contended.

The reduction in overall SNAP participation due to the Trump Administration proposal would limit the reach of this innovative new state program just as it’s getting off the ground, the Appleseed Center said.

“Even while working multiple jobs, too many families in Hawai‘i just can’t make ends meet,” said Daniela Kittinger, director of Anti-Hunger Initiatives at Hawai‘i Appleseed Center. “If Hawai‘i residents are no longer allowed to include their high costs of housing, childcare and other essential expenses in their food stamp applications, then thousands will face even tougher choices, such as between paying for food and paying their rent.”

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Before such a change can go into effect, the Trump Administration proposal must undergo a public comment period. The federal government is currently accepting public comments on this proposal through Sept. 23, 2019. Comments can be made online.

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