Federal Food Security: What’s Changed

by Etta O’Donnell-King

While federal changes in leadership can have limited effect on our communities, there certainly have been a lot of changes to benefits for low-income people and families.

Even before the new president took office, Congress passed a COVID relief bill that included a 15% boost to SNAP benefits during the pandemic, an expansion of Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) to all children under age 6 receiving SNAP and expansions of SNAP eligibility for college students, which would make students eligible if they are awarded work study or have a family contribution of $0 on the FAFSA. These are basic changes that we are all entitled to that will continue for the rest of the pandemic emergency declaration. We hope that this opens the door for these changes to be available outside of this pandemic.

In the first few days of this new presidency, we have also seen some truly harmful SNAP rule changes be reversed. President Biden has halted the rollback of broad based categorical eligibility and standard utility allowances.

If you don’t remember, the Trump administration filed an administrative rule change in July of 2019 on broad based categorical eligibility that would have restricted states’ ability to streamline how people apply for assistance and lower the income level at which someone is eligible for SNAP and block people with very modest assets, like a used car, from qualifying. This rule would have cut nearly 500,000 Oregon households off of SNAP and made it much harder for families to access free and reduced-price meals. We wrote more about this rule back in 2019.

The administrative rule change on Standard Utility Allowances had a similar but different intent by reducing costs for the administration by directly reducing benefits for families. Introduced in October 2019, this rule changed how states take households’ utility costs into account in determining the amount of SNAP benefits for which they qualify. This rule would have reduced food assistance from four out of every nine (43%) Oregonians participating in SNAP. For more information, we wrote about it in 2019, when it was introduced.

Another step towards a big change has come most recently. President Biden signed an Executive Order on February 2 reviewing the Trump administration Public Charge rule. This rule would block documented, tax-paying immigrants and their families from going through the official immigration process for receiving benefits for which they are legally eligible, including SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid and housing assistance to help make ends meet. This rule was enacted, and it has weaved through courts, getting struck down and reinstated and all that time, families were not getting what they needed, because of the fear this rule has caused. This rule combined all of the base elements of the previous administration; needless cruelty, open hatred of poverty and virulent racism. See our original response to this rule in 2019 here.

We are happy to see these changes from the new administration, they have a positive effect for people and families. But they just bring us back to where we were. We want to think bigger about how we can bring more to families. Especially now, people need more and new benefits. We are going to keep thinking big and finding new pathways from poverty for families and we hope, and will demand, that those in the Capitol do too.