Dem state lawmakers criticize federal farm bill over food stamp eligibility changes

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Democratic state lawmakers are arguing House Republicans will be “taking food out of the mouths of children” if they pass their current version of the farm bill.

A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo Dems released yesterday shows an estimated 75,720 people, or about 11.1 percent of food stamp recipients, would lose eligibility. Those numbers are based on enrollment in September 2017.

Of that number, 23,369 are children — about 8 percent of all children currently eligible. In total, the reductions in eligibility would cut federal benefits for food stamps by about $23.8 million annually.

In September 2017, 682,924 Wisconsinites received benefits. Of those, 291,956 were children.

The memo was compiled after Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling requested estimates on the effect the House bill would have on caseload and benefits under Wisconsin’s food stamp program.

“I think it’s bad enough that Republicans have fought to give millionaires yet another tax break this season, but then to turn around and deny low-income children access to food, it’s unthinkable,” Shilling, D-La Crosse, said at a Capitol news conference.

The reductions in eligibility stem from a provision in the current draft of the bill that would limit broad-based categorical aid, which allows people to qualify automatically for SNAP benefits if they also receive benefits from other public assistance programs.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, lauded the bill when it passed out of the House Agriculture Committee in mid-April.

“Included in this farm bill are much-needed reforms that will strengthen America’s workforce and help people move out of poverty,” the Janesville Republican said in a statement at the time. “For too long, vague and unenforceable requirements have discouraged work and left many good jobs unfilled.”

Wisconsin’s FoodShare program allows people with gross income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for food stamps if they receive non-cash benefits from certain state and federal public assistance programs.

For instance, people in Wisconsin who receive a referral to the state’s employment services program are automatically eligible for benefits if their income is below the state’s 200 percent threshold. In 2017, the threshold was an annual gross income of $49,200 for a family of four.

But the House bill would cap broad-based categorical eligibility by limiting it to only those who receive cash assistance — as opposed to non-cash assistance like job referrals — or ongoing and substantial services, under the federal temporary assistance for needy families program.

The bill would also limit benefits distributed in broad-based categories to those with gross income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level instead of Wisconsin’s 200 percent threshold.

The LFB memo shows the House bill could also reduce eligibility for free and reduced lunches in schools, because children in families eligible for food stamps are automatically eligible for free and reduced lunches.

See the memo:
https://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/democrats/media/1154/snap-changes_5118.pdf 

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