SNAP in the Cross-Hairs

The tax bill likely to be passed by the Republican-led Congress and signed by Trump will add $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit. Once enacted, it will provide cover for the most aggressive dismantling of federal social welfare programs in a generation. As one of the largest federal benefit programs, SNAP is directly in the cross-hairs.

On December 5, 2017, USDA Secretary Purdue issued a press release promising “SNAP Flexibilities,” an Orwellian term that means cutbacks and the flexibility for states to kick more people off the program. In Purdue’s words,

“SNAP was created to provide people with the help they need to feed themselves and their families, but it was not intended to be a permanent lifestyle….  We want to provide the nutrition people need, but we also want to help them transition from government programs, back to work, and into lives of independence.”

This echoed a letter sent by USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Brandon Lipps to state SNAP commissioners on November 30, 2017, pledging that these “flexibilities” would move people off SNAP benefits. Lipps stated:

“The American dream has never been to live on government benefits…. We must facilitate the transition for individuals and families to become independent….”

These efforts are championed by a little-known organization called the “Secretaries’ Innovation Group,” a collection of anti-government directors of state human service and workforce agencies. The group is led by Eloise Anderson, who runs Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Department of Children and Families, and Jason Turner, who was Rudy Giuliani’s Human Resources Administration Commissioner.

The group’s goal is to

“formulate options for waivers and other administrative vehicles for state freedom of action… and to consider and approve joint moves which advance the policies of limited government and state autonomy.”

These “options” include:

  • restricting the foods that SNAP participants can buy;
  • eliminating waivers that allow states to provide SNAP to unemployed adults and to offer categorical SNAP eligibility to those on other federal benefits;
  • preventing people living together who buy food and prepare meals separately (aka, “roommates”) from receiving individual SNAP benefits;
  • redirecting SNAP Education (SNAP-ED) funds, currently used to teach  nutrition and healthy eating, to job training programs; and
  • cutting SNAP benefits for immigrant households with children.

In the coming weeks and months, food justice and social welfare advocates need to be vigilant to ensure that SNAP is not eviscerated by these and other administrative changes made in the name of program flexibility and so-called independence.

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