Millions on food stamps at risk under Trump’s cost-cutting plan (Tahlequah Daily Press)

By Kery Murakami

WASHINGTON – Anti-hunger advocates fear the $193 billion reduction President Donald Trump proposes to the federal food stamp program over the next 10 years will hurt millions of needy Americans who rely on it for their daily sustenance.

They’re concerned too many individuals below the poverty line or who make barely enough to live on will either be denied food stamps or experience cuts in the average monthly allowance of $125.

More than 44 million Americans received food stamps last year under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which currently costs the government more than $70 billion annually.

In Massachusetts, Patricia Baker, a policy analyst at the Law Reform Institute, said older people will be hit hardest. She said some will be forced to skip meals, cut back on medications or fall behind on their utility bills in a state that’s considered the second-most expensive in the nation for the elderly.

Georgia could lose as much as $666 million a year in food stamp assistance under the Trump proposal, according to Melissa Johnson, senior policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. If that holds, she said, hungry children from low-income families would experience trouble learning in school.

Even some Republicans and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a farmer and former Georgia governor whose agency administers the food stamp program, hardly sound enthused about the proposed cuts.

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Nina Anand said Congress will likely modify the president’s budget request and so it is difficult to gauge the precise impact of the food stamp program reduction.

But, she added, “there is no point in sugar coating” that the department will have to live with a reduced budget and less money for the food stamps.

Trump’s budget anticipates an improved economy will result in fewer individuals in need of food stamps. It is also grants far fewer work requirement waivers to able-bodied adults without dependents – a cohort the conservative Heritage Foundation estimates at four million recipients.

Human service advocates say it could kick more people off the program who cannot find work in regions ranging from struggling coal industry states like West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio to hard-pressed fishing communities in Massachusetts and other coastal states.

Additionally, Trump’s administration would reduce the federal outlay by shifting a portion of the cost of the food stamp program to the states, beginning with a 10 percent share in 2020 and building to 25 percent three years later.

That change alone would require the states to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars in supplemental support, with the more populated states facing the biggest burden. In the case of Texas, officials estimate it could cost $1 billion or more annually.

Human service advocates say they worry about states taking on more costs for basic human services at a time they are trying to overcome deep budget deficits that have built up since the great recession.

Oklahoma lawmakers, for example, recently slashed state health and human services by $33 million – a cut the state says it cannot absorb “without significant consequences to services and our ability to administer them effectively.”

Trump’s proposal would add $221 million a year Oklahoma would need to make up for the loss of federal food stamp assistance, according to an analysis by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Oklahoma definitely isn’t able to pick up that cost shift,” said Carly Putman, an analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “We’re struggling to pay for our obligations as it is.”

Unable to make up the decline in federal dollars, advocates for human services say the states will have no recourse other than to reduce the number of people who get food stamps, lower the average assistance of $125 per month or both.

“Absolutely not,” said Baker, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute analyst, when asked if her state could find an additional $297 million a year to cover the federal reductions. She said the state already has a $400 million budget deficit that needs to be solved.

People now qualify for food stamps if they make less than 130 percent of the poverty rate, or $26,208 annually for a family of three.

Johnson, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute analyst, frets that the state might only allow people making less than 46 percent of the poverty rate – or $9,408 per year for a family of three – to qualify for food stamps.

That’s the standard her state uses for receiving cash welfare assistance. Johnson said it would eliminate half the 1.6 million recipients who qualified for food stamps in Georgia last year.

Johnson said states could also reduce the dollar value of food stamps they distribute.

The amount, which varies by state, works out to $1.40 per meal on average nationally, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – an average that’s determined by the Agriculture Department cost estimate of a “thrifty” meal that’s still considered nutritious.

“There’s not much lower they could go,” said Johnson. “But everything would have to be on the table” if the food stamp program reductions happen.

Rachael Kostelac, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, said a further complication is Trump’s overall budget plan that shifts more of the cost of Medicaid and other welfare programs like home heating assistance to the states.

Kostelac said Trump also wants to eliminate a provision allowing states to give food stamps to individuals with incomes twice the poverty level. He said that would hurt lower middle-class families burdened with health care and child care costs.

According to the federal Agriculture Department, the number of people on food stamps has been declining since reaching a peak of 47.6 million in 2013. Last year 44.2 million people received food stamps, but that was still much higher than the 26.5 million who received food stamps in 2006 before the recession.

“Despite improvements in unemployment since the recession ended, SNAP participation remains persistently high,” Trump’s budget proposal said.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said reduced federal spending is needed to lower the nation’s $20 trillion debt and yet “in Iowa, we have a lot of children who are food insecure.”


Margaret (Maggie) den Harder obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Theology from Seattle Pacific University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. Originally from the Pacific Northwest area of Washington state, Maggie has called Tulsa home for the past 8 years. Since living in Tulsa, Maggie has worked in the legal field, higher education administration, and the nonprofit sector as well as actively volunteering in the community. Maggie also recently spent time at the City of Tulsa as a consultant and wrote the content for Resilient Tulsa, an action-oriented strategy designed to better equity in Tulsa. Through her work, community involvement, and personal experiences, Maggie is interested in the intersection of the law and mental health and addiction treatment issues, preventative and diversion programs, and maternal mental health, particularly post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis. While working at Oklahoma Policy Institute as a research intern, Maggie further developed an interest in family dynamics and stability, economic security-related stress, and intergenerational trauma.

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