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Mayor Young: SNAP benefit changes would hurt thousands in Baltimore

The Trump administration is seeking to narrow eligibility for food stamps, or SNAP.
The Trump administration is seeking to narrow eligibility for food stamps, or SNAP. (Richard B. Levine / TNS)

For more than 40 million low-income Americans – including 166,000 in Baltimore – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a critical lifeline, helping our most vulnerable get the sustenance they need. It has proven to be one of our best policies on the books to fight hunger. Unfortunately, if a proposed Trump administration regulation goes into effect, as many as 3 million Americans – including children, seniors and people with disabilities – could lose this benefit.

Just last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a revision of “broad-based categorical eligibility” for the program, changing the way Maryland and 41 other states determine who qualifies for the program. In effect, it is a way to deny SNAP benefits to an estimated 3.1 million individuals and would disproportionately affect seniors and people with disabilities. The proposal is just the latest in a series of attempts by this administration to tighten the requirements for this critical safety net. This is why mayors and local leaders across the country are speaking out.

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America’s mayors are on the front lines working to eliminate hunger and combat food insecurity in our communities. In response to this alarming proposal, a bipartisan group of 70 mayors, on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), wrote a letter to the USDA stating our strong opposition to any executive action that would negatively impact the health of Americans.

The Conference of Mayors has been a leader in working to improve the health of our communities, and I’m pleased to serve as the co-chair of the Food Policy Taskforce, along with Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. Hunger rose as a key topic at our most recent meeting, and mayors passed a series of resolutions supporting access to child nutrition programs and the elimination of food inequity across the country. In 2018, mayors fought and stopped many revisions to SNAP in the Farm Bill, which would have threatened the ability of Americans in need to access this critical program.

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We need to protect the policies that give us a fighting chance to address hunger, and SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps, does just that. Eighty percent of SNAP households include a child, senior or person with disabilities, and 85% of all benefits from the program go to such households. This program benefits our most vulnerable, and this proposed rule threatens to escalate food insecurity and hunger for critical segments of our population.

SNAP in early childhood has been linked to tangible benefits later in life, including improved high school graduation rates, adult earnings and health. The USDA’s new rule would put at risk more than 500,000 children who qualify for free school lunch through participation in SNAP. Regular access to nutritious meals during the school day helps our students succeed, and this attempt to undermine SNAP has the potential to concurrently impact access to school meals and further compound childhood food insecurity.

SNAP is also a vital tool for lifting Americans out of poverty and stimulating local economies. The Supplemental Poverty Measure from 2017 found that the program helped 3.4 million people out of poverty, 1.5 million of whom were children under 18 years of age. While SNAP clearly improves quality of life, it also has wider public benefits, stimulating the economies of our communities. The USDA found that the program stimulates economy activity during downturns, and the agency estimated that for every $1 billion in new SNAP benefits, GDP will be raised by $1.5 billion.

The proposed rule is a national issue, but the impacts would be felt here at home. More than 625,000 Marylanders participate in SNAP. By USDA’s estimates, nearly 15,000 Baltimoreans could lose their benefits, including approximately 2,900 households with older adults. The ripple effects of the rule would put the 90,000 free school meals Baltimore students eat each day at risk and would jeopardize the economic viability of our supermarkets, small food stores, and farmers markets. Deliberate measures to reduce SNAP will only increase hunger and place additional burdens on residents in Baltimore and across the nation.

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This proposed rule would escalate food insecurity, increase childhood hunger and reduce school funding, disproportionately impact older adults, and harm the economy. Therefore, we urge the USDA to abandon this proposal. Instead of pursuing action that would hurt our families and communities, let us focus on the ways we can keep our cities healthy.

I held a press conference on August 22nd with local leaders to oppose the proposed change, and you can read more about it here.

Bernard C. “Jack” Young, a Democrat, is Baltimore mayor and Co-Chair of the United States Conference of Mayors Food Policy Task Force. His email is mayor@baltimorecity.gov and his Twitter handle is @mayorbcyoung.

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