SNAP Benefits in Jeopardy Under Trump Proposal

September 14, 2019, 11:00 AM HST (Updated September 11, 2019, 7:31 PM)
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Nearly 16,500 Hawai‘i residents could lose their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and more under a new rule change proposed by the Trump Administration, according to the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice.

The proposed rule would change the way Hawai‘i and other states determine eligibility for SNAP benefits. Currently, residents of states with a high cost of living—like Hawai‘i—can qualify for benefits even if their income is higher than the federal eligibility cut-off. The Administration’s proposal is seeking to eliminate considerations that factor in the cost of living, resulting in a discontinuous of SNAP benefits for many. The change would also result in an estimated loss of almost $3.9 million per year at grocery stores and food retailers statewide.

Before approval, the proposal must first undergo a period for public comment. The federal government is currently accepting comments on the proposal through Sept. 23, 2019.

According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week, SNAP benefits reduce poverty nationwide. Hawai‘i sees the 6th largest impact from SNAP, with benefits reducing the SPM measure by 1.3 percentage points. Seniors living in Hawai‘i see an even greater benefit from SNAP with an impact of 1.8 percentage points—the 3rd largest effect in the country.

Graphic courtesy of Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice.

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Hawai‘i currently has the 13th highest poverty rate in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. The ranking is above the national average and accounts for the cost of living, as measured by the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) index. The SPM differs from the Official Poverty Rate (OPR) released by the Census Bureau, which ranks Hawai‘i as having the 8th lowest poverty rate in the country at 9.5%. Roughly 192,000 residents in Hawai‘i currently live at the poverty level.

“When you hear that Hawai‘i has one of the lowest poverty rates in the nation, remember that’s because the official rate doesn’t take into account our highest-in-the-nation cost of living,” said Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst at the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice. “Also remember that the Census Bureau has a more accurate poverty measure, one that shows that Hawai‘i actually has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, which more accurately reflects what we see here every day.”

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