Breaking Down the Proposed Changes to CalFresh/SNAP 

If you’ve turned on the news lately, you’ve probably heard about cuts to SNAP (knowns as CalFresh in California, or “food stamps”). We’ve broken things down to help you better understand recent legislation and their implications on hunger and the Food Bank. Changes made at the federal level hurt the people we serve at the local level.                  

Public Charge: 

WHEN does Public Charge come up? The Public Charge Assessment happens when a person: applies to enter the US, applies to adjust status to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (obtaining a green card), or a green card holder leaves the US for more than 180 consecutive days (6 months) and reenters. Most immigrants are not eligible for public benefits for up to 5 years; the new Public Charge rule would determine if this individual would likely use public benefits when in the US, based on certain criteria.

WHICH public benefits are examined? Utilizing the following public benefits could make a recipient subject to the Public Charge Test: CalFresh (SNAP)/Food Stamps, CalWorks (TANF/Cash Aid), Medicaid*, and Housing Assistance (Public Housing, Section 8, Rental Assistance). Those who would be impacted by this rule change are individuals deemed by the Public Charge Test to be more likely than not to receive public benefits for a cumulative 12 months or longer during a 36-month period. Two separate benefits (such as SNAP and housing assistance) used during the same month, count as 2 months out of the 12 months, and so on.

WHEN and WHERE does this happen? This is a federal proposal and would impact Californians who are enrolled in the public benefits listed above and are seeking to change their immigration status on or after February 24, 2020.

Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD):

What does ABAWD mean? If a person is determined to be able-bodied and does not have any dependents, their CalFresh benefits could be limited to 3 months in a 36-month period. Someone may fall into this category if they are between the ages of 18 and 49, they do not have any children living in their household, and they are not working 20 hours a week or more. A person who matches those standards, may be exempt if they are homeless, pregnant, in school, or receiving disability-related income– just to name a few exemptions.

When would the ABAWD Time Limit start? Currently, the final ABAWD rule was published on December 4, 2019 by the Federal government and it will take effect in almost every California county on April 1, 2020, UNLESS a court case can be brought against this ruling before April. The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is supporting litigation in opposition to this rule due to the negative impact this would have on the community members we serve.

Categorical Eligibility:

What is Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE): BBCE provides states the ability to streamline benefits and adjust the gross income eligibility requirements to make SNAP most responsive to the living standards of those in that state. Broad-based categorical eligibility allows states to look at the income requirements of people who are starting to earn more money and see whether or not the expenses they have for basics, like rent and childcare are leaving them enough money to budget for food. The federal cutoff to qualify for SNAP is an income at or below 130% of the federal poverty line; yet with BBCE, California has been able to let those with a gross income at or below 200% of the federal poverty line to be eligible for benefits. This is due to the high cost of living in California, compared to other states. The proposal would eliminate BBCE and apply the same income requirements (130% of the federal poverty line) to all individuals in all states. 

Who: The Administration estimates 3.1 million people would lose their current access to SNAP. Currently, 12% of American households are food insecure, meaning they don’t have “consistent access to sufficient food.” SNAP serves 40 million people annually in the US; to qualify, your gross annual income is 130% or lower than the federal poverty line ($33,000/year for a family of 4). In California, 120,000 households, who are living between 130-200% of the federal poverty line would be impacted. Additionally, categorical eligibility allows families who are already eligible for other means-tested programs and children who are in SNAP households to receive free and reduced lunch. This proposal would eliminate the automatic enrollment and states would need to allocate staff to review separate applications for SNAP, free and reduced lunch and other means-tested programs.

Where and When: This is a nationwide policy, impacting Californians who receive SNAP (CalFresh) and meet the new income qualifications. Public comments were due on September 23, 2019. The USDA will most likely propose an official rule sometime in 2020.

Standard Utility Allowance:

What is the proposal: The Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) refers to the current SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) policy that takes into account the utility expenses of each SNAP household. This proposal would result in regulatory changes in how SNAP benefits are calculated. States currently have the option to use a designated allowance, approved by the USDA, in place of the actual utility costs to calculate a household’s utility expenses. The proposal eliminates a state’s ability in determining the appropriate dollar amount for those expenses, based upon the relevant living conditions of that state’s residents. Each state would utilize a uniform national allowance, which is projected to be lower than the actual utility cost for many Californians.

Who is impacted: This rule would impact any CalFresh recipient in California, and SNAP recipients nationwide, if it goes into effect. This proposal could disproportionately impact households with persons who are disabled or seniors. Typically, households with these populations yield higher utility expenses, due to the usage of household medical equipment, for example. The Administration estimates that if this rule takes effect, approximately 19% of SNAP households nationwide would get lower monthly SNAP benefits than they currently receive.

When would this take effect: This rule could take effect sometime in 2020. Currently, the USDA is reviewing public and organizational comments that were due on December 2, 2019. 

What is the rationale for this proposal: The USDA published on October 3, 2019, that this proposed rule would cut SNAP benefits to save the program $4.5 billion over 5 years. 

If you are interested in helping with our advocacy efforts, please contact Cassidie at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

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