The struggle is real.

You don’t have to go hunting to find Vermonters living in poverty. They are all around, and the number of people struggling to make ends meet seems to be growing.

That is why government and advocates need to work together to protect the services being made available to those in need.

The Vermont Department for Children and Families opposes proposed changes to the federal food stamp program that it says could cause 5,204 state households to lose their benefits.

The department says the proposed changes to what is known formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, would affect about 13% of the current Vermont caseload and equals a loss of approximately $7.5 million in annual benefits for Vermonters.

The changes to the program, known in Vermont as 3SquaresVT, would also affect the eligibility for free and reduced-price school meals, possibly affecting 4,619 children.

Nationally, about 3.1 million people would lose food stamp benefits under the Trump administration’s proposal to tighten eligibility requirements. The administration has also proposed tightening work requirements for those who receive federal food assistance.

An article in VTDigger this week highlights the concern.

“We believe that the families that would be impacted really need this benefit,” DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz said in the article.

The article quotes USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue: “The American people expect their government to be fair, efficient and to have integrity. That is why we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.”

According to the article, to qualify for food stamps, a family’s income must fall below a certain amount. And certain households cannot have assets — like savings — that exceed $3,500 or $2,500, depending on the family’s composition. But many states, including Vermont, waive the requirement that a family’s assets fall below those caps.

Under one of the proposed changes, a family of two in which at least one member is disabled with a net annual income of $16,910 will no longer qualify for benefits if it has savings worth over $3,500.

“It requires people to become financially destitute before they reach out for help,” Faye Mack, the advocacy and education director at Hunger Free Vermont, told VTDigger.

This is the wrong direction, and the Trump administration does not seem the least bit concerned with the long-term effects.

“States are taking advantage of loopholes that allow millions of people to receive (SNAP) benefits, commonly known as food stamps, who would otherwise not qualify,” Perdue wrote in a Fox News op-ed published this summer. “It is my job to ensure the people who truly need food stamps receive what they’re entitled to — but the waste must stop.”

Republicans have long lobbied to reduce food stamp expenditures by limiting categorical eligibility, which they see as wasteful and unfair, and attempted to pass a version of USDA’s proposed change in last year’s farm bill. Democrats, on the other hand, see this change as a threat to the health and security of millions of low-income families, by narrowing food stamp eligibility while increasing paperwork families must complete to get food assistance.

Some policy advocates have come out against the change.

“After failing to weaponize the 2018 Farm Bill to strike categorical eligibility from the SNAP program, President Donald Trump is defying Congress and waging war on workers and families who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Ben Olinsky, senior vice president of policy and strategy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, in a statement.

Other think tanks like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have noted that restricting categorical eligibility could cause families to lose food assistance altogether as they achieve small increases in pay or accrue just a few thousand dollars in a safety net.

This proposed change is the latest in several other attempts by the Trump administration to curb food stamp access, including by imposing more severe work requirements and by changing the way the poverty threshold is calculated.

It is not a crime to be poor. No one should be punished for not having means. And when a struggle as real as this one is only made worse, how is that not punitive and another step closer to inhumane?

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