COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — The federal government is considering stricter requirements to qualify for food assistance. The US Department of Agriculture has proposed a rule change that state employees estimate will cost tens of thousands of Coloradoans their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly referred to as food stamps.
The USDA began the rule change process last month. A news release posted on the department's webpage explains the goal is to close a loophole which let about 3 million Americans automatically enroll in SNAP without checking income eligibility. Currently, the law allows states to give what known as categorical eligibility to anyone already receiving federal assistance such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF.)
"Some states have expanded the use of categorical eligibility so that many households who receive SNAP may barely participate in these other programs - they may for example, only receive an information brochure," the news release reads.
The proposal would limit the use of categorical eligibility to people who've received a minimum of $50 in TANF for a minimum period of 6 months.
The Colorado Department of Human Services warned in a news release more than 33,000 people could lose their SNAP benefits as a result of the rule change. Under the state's current broad based categorical eligibility, families and individuals earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line qualify for SNAP. The rule reduces that eligibility down to 130 percent of the federal poverty line.
"Ensuring access to healthy food through SNAP has demonstrated increased high school graduation rates, improved health outcomes resulting in decreased healthcare expenditures, and an effective work support," the news release reads.
Karen Logan, the Director of Economic and Administrative Services for the El Paso County Department of Human Services said the food assistance is often tied to other programs designed to help working families save money.
"Any family that is receiving food benefits automatically qualifies for free lunches," Logan said. "And not just free lunches, they might also qualify for free or reduced activity fees, free or reduced fees for other programs like their lab fees and things like that."
The food bank Care and Share is the largest provider of food assistance in Southern Colorado outside of SNAP. CEO Lynne Telford said she's watching this rule change process closely and is anticipating an increase in demand for services.
"We don't see where else they will go besides the people that we work with, Care and Share and our partners throughout Southern Colorado."
Logan said she still wants people to apply for assistance. She fears many will give up.
"I would hate for the message to be that because the guidelines are getting more restrictive, people shouldn't apply, because we have a large number of people in our community that likely are eligible but not receiving benefits."
The rule change is currently in a public comment period through September 23. Federal budget cycles operate on fiscal calendar beginning in October. So, Logan expects the soonest this change could happen is more than a year away.