State DHS secretary: USDA’s cuts to food stamps would punish working families

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Over the past week, the Trump administration has said it wants to tighten the rules governing who qualifies for food stamps, which would strip more than 3 million people of their benefits.

Individuals had been encouraged under the Obama administration to exploit a loophole that would help families impacted by domestic violence and other social issues, even if the income was slightly above the poverty level. But the Trump administration’s proposal would close that loophole.

Statewide, more than 1.7 million people rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to afford food. Pennsylvania’s secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS), Teresa Miller, said if implemented, an estimated 200,000 Pennsylvanians could lose SNAP benefits.

Miller toured Philadelphia (Opportunities Industrialization Center) OIC on Monday, a nonprofit that trains people for jobs in hospitality, banking, the green economy, and more.

Last year, OIC partnered with DHS to provide these services to food stamps recipients.

“We empower individuals not just to obtain employment, but to retain employment,” said LaToya Edmond, vice president of workforce development and economic innovation at OIC.

But Miller is concerned how the administration’s proposal will affect people who benefit from OIC.

“That’s just going to increase hunger across Pennsylvania, and it’s going to disproportionately impact working families and individuals with disabilities and seniors,” she said.

It could also impact free lunch eligibility for 500,000 children kids nationwide, and hurt Pennsylvania grocers who earn $250 million a year from SNAP recipients.

“We have made it clear: This is not acceptable,” said U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans.

Evans — among other federal lawmakers, like state Sen. Vincent Hughes — wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in December 2018, urging him to withdraw the “harmful” SNAP cuts.

“We are putting pressure on the administration,” Evans continued.

“The rule has ramifications beyond food security,” added Gov. Tom Wolf in a statement. “Pennsylvania retailers rely on the money SNAP recipients spend and reducing the number of people able to use these benefits in Pennsylvania will have a significant economic impact. In addition, when people receive proper nutrition, they remain healthier and spend less on health care. Depriving people of the means for adequate sustenance and a healthier life is cruel and inhumane.”

Notably, the Trump administration also changed the process for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability eligibility, which legal experts say lengthens the process for applying for SSI by five or six months.

Proponents of the SNAP cuts say it eliminates inefficiencies in the process and saves the U.S. government about $10 billion over a decade.