U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is coming to the defense of Trump administration plans that would cause millions of food stamp recipients to receive smaller benefits.
Perdue, a former Georgia governor, and his department have proposed several changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest food assistance program.
The proposal would change the way states consider utility costs, including winter heating bills, when determining household eligibility for food stamps. Other changes proposed earlier this year include work requirements and giving states more flexibility in determining who is eligible for food stamps.
The Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, said benefits would be reduced in most states, including a 15% reduction in 13 states and the most reductions coming in the District of Columbia and Nevada.
Northeastern states would see large reductions, and households with elderly people, those with disabilities and able-bodied adults without dependents most affected.
More than 500,000 households with children would lose eligibility, according to the think tank, and more than 1 million people would receive smaller benefits.
According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review, rural Georgians are more likely to need the help of food stamps to pay for their groceries, but that public help probably doesn’t stretch as far as it does in places such as Atlanta because of higher food prices in small-town stores.
Georgia’s lawmakers have spent the past several years focusing on ways to boost the economy in rural areas, but little has been done to address the emergence of food deserts across the state as grocery stores go out of business.
Perdue, who is one of the administration's longest-serving Cabinet members, told The Washington Post on Monday the proposals "will save money and preserve the integrity of the program. SNAP should be a temporary safety net.
“That is why we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it,” he said.
The average monthly benefit to SNAP recipients is $121 per person, according to USDA figures.
“Instead of punishing working families if they work more hours or penalizing seniors and people with disabilities who save for emergencies, the president should seek to assist them with policies that help them afford the basics and save for the future,” Stacy Dean, vice president of food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the Post.