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Rick Wilson: Public comments needed on SNAP change (Opinion)

The Trump administration has recently proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that could take away food assistance from 3 million or more Americans.

This step would ignore the clear will of bipartisan majorities in both the U.S. Senate and House that voted in the Farm Bill to leave the program intact.

Here’s what it does: eliminates the “broad based categorical eligibility” (BBCE) for people receiving SNAP. This allows people who are eligible for other assistance programs such as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Supplemental Security Income or other programs to be automatically eligible for SNAP.

Here’s why it’s bad: eliminating the BBCE creates a cliff effect in which people could experience drastic cuts in benefits when their living conditions modestly improve.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “SNAP supports work in part by phasing benefits down gradually — by only 24 to 36 cents for each dollar of increased earnings. But without BBCE, a family can lose substantial SNAP benefits from a small earnings increase that raises its gross income over SNAP’s eligibility threshold ... BBCE allows states to lift this threshold and phase benefits out more gradually, which lets households close to that threshold take higher-paying work and still benefit from SNAP.”

The proposed policy could have the negative effect of discouraging work by removing incentives for people to enter and stay in the labor force.

Eliminating BBCE could discourage struggling families from building modest savings and increase the level of bureaucracy in administering the program.

So if you want to do a good deed and make a public comment about the proposed policy, your message can be as simple as “Eliminating BBCE will push struggling families over a benefit cliff.”

Or “It’s a bad idea to discourage savings and asset building.”

Or “Why increase bureaucratic complexity? Keep it simple by keeping BBCE.” Or some combination of the above.

Then there’s this if you don’t want to overthink it: “It’s not nice to take away food from hungry people.”

And if you want to get biblical about it, there’s this verse from Isaiah: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

There are plenty more where that came from.

The public comment period ends Sept. 23. One easy way to put your two cents in is to visit the Food Research and Action Center’s website ( and click on the link.

Rick Wilson works for the American Friends Service Committee and is a contributing columnist for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.