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On July 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a regulatory change that will inflict harm on 3.1 million of our neighbors in America.

The proposal alters “categorical eligibility.” This would take away the flexibility states have to modestly increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) income eligibility levels and adopt less restrictive asset limits that people report.

This proposal lacks compassion. It’s not good business.

The rule would make it more difficult for households to qualify for SNAP. In Nebraska, the rule would reestablish a restrictive asset limit of $3,500 for many seniors and those with disabilities, forcing them to choose between food support and their modest savings.

James Goddard, director of the Economic Justice Program at Nebraska Appleseed said, “The proposed rule would be harmful for Nebraskans and households across our nation. The administration should focus on increasing wages and creating better jobs for low-paid families, rather than punishing them for working a few more hours.”

The Food Bank believes the rule would adversely impact the SNAP “cliff effect,” where a small raise or a new job can cause people to lose their food stamp benefits and consequently suffer a net loss while trying to achieve more.

Who would be affected? 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 74% of Nebraska SNAP participants are in families with children, and 29% of participants are in families with members who are elderly or disabled. More than 54% of participants are in working families. Many Nebraskans who are receiving SNAP benefits are working extremely hard. 

Robert Greenstein, president of the CBPP and a board member of Feeding America, writes: “The proposed rule would make it harder for struggling people to make ends meet. It comes in the aftermath of the president’s 2017 tax law, which conferred large new benefits on the highest income households.”

He further argues: “This rule would be particularly harsh for working families with incomes close to SNAP’s gross income threshold of 130% of the poverty line, who would be at risk of being cut off of SNAP if they got a modest wage increase or worked slightly more hours. Taking SNAP away from these families could discourage some recipients from earning additional income.”

This proposal was originally found in the 2018 Farm Bill and was rejected by Congress.

The business of SNAP work is significant. Nebraska’s two food banks assisted our neighbors with 11,053 SNAP applications, resulting in over $26 million worth of benefits in the state, nearly 9.3 million meals for Nebraskans and an estimated $47,065,832 worth of economic activity from Omaha to Scottsbluff.

Adequate nutrition for all translates into good business for all. Seniors are healthier, kids are more well prepared for school and people in recovery have a better chance for sustained success. Our workforce will continue to work harder, provide more to our overall economy and provide better lives for their families and communities.

Do we want to penalize seniors or people with disabilities by denying them food assistance? Do we want to encourage people to work and better themselves, or punish them for having ambition? Whom do we want to be?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits every single one of us. Let’s resolve to help people grow their families and communities in healthy ways. Let’s let our elected leaders know seniors, people with disabilities, kids and hard-working Nebraskans matter.

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Scott Young is executive director of the Food Bank of Lincoln.

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