Raoul joins 23 AGs in defending food stamps

Trump rule taking effect Oct. 15 will hurt students and seniors worst, says Illinois attorney general

Attorney General Kwame Raoul is fighting rules changes proposed by President Trump that would kick millions of people off food stamps. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Attorney General Kwame Raoul is fighting rules changes proposed by President Trump that would kick millions of people off food stamps. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul joined 23 of his counterparts across the nation this week in fighting proposed Trump administration rule changes that could remove 3.1 million people from the food-stamp program.

President Trump has proposed changes in enrollment for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — more commonly known as food stamps. The Obama administration, in a bid to cut bureaucracy and streamline enrollment, encouraged states to enroll people in the program automatically if they qualified for other federal assistance programs with similar requirements — a policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility.” Calling that a “loophole,” Trump is trying to end that practice by imposing a new rule set to take effect Oct. 15 with a policy the attorneys general pointed out had been rejected numerous times by Congress.

Some 24 attorneys general formed a coalition that sent a letter this week to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food & Nutrition Service, which administers SNAP benefits, calling the proposed changes “an impermissible attempt to use the rulemaking process to flout the legislative process and change how millions of people become eligible for food support.”

“The SNAP program is the country’s most important anti-hunger program and a crucial component of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty,” Raoul said in a statement in a news release Wednesday. “This proposed rule would negatively affect the state’s ability to support vulnerable populations and provide vital services to residents in need.”

According to the Office of the Attorney General, “If finalized, the proposed rule would cause 3.1 million low-income residents, including working poor families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities, to lose critical nutrition assistance.”

The change could affect more than 100,000 Illinoisans.

Raoul said the impact would fall hardest on the old and the young. He cited how children in families receiving food stamps are automatically enrolled in a program giving them free meals at school, and “this rule change would mean an estimated 265,000 children would lose access to free school meals, leading to food insecurity and malnourishment.”

His office also estimated that “more than 13 percent of all SNAP households with elderly members would lose food assistance, which could potentially force low-income seniors to choose between paying for necessary medication and food.”

Raoul echoed charges that the changes would potentially flood agencies like the Illinois Department of Human Services with applications that were previously automatic, and he warned of additional public costs brought on by the domino effect of malnutrition causing health problems including chronic diseases like diabetes.

“The proposed rule will harm the states, their residents, their local economies, and the public health,” the attorneys general stated in their letter. “This substantial loss of nutrition assistance will cause significant economic and social harms to the states, including greater poverty and hunger, reduced productivity, and a higher incidence of significant health problems.”

They also argued that the Trump rule violates federal laws in that it “fails to provide a legitimate justification for changing longstanding USDA policy, conflicts with the clear intent of Congress, and exceeds USDA’s authority.”

Raoul was joined in signing the letter by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.