The staff at Hunger Free Vermont is asking Vermonters to take advantage of the comment period for a proposed change to food assistance they believe “would hurt Vermont more than any other state.”
The change proposed by the Trump administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, would alter the way states use a family’s utility costs as a way of determining the amount of food benefits households receive.
Estimates from Vermont’s Department for Children and Families find that 68% of 3SquaresVT households, or more than 26,000 households, would see an average cut of $82 in their monthly 3SquaresVT benefits if the federal proposal goes into effect as proposed.
Anore Horton, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, noted the timing of the proposed changes. “It is ironic that this cut is proposed right now when we’re all turning on our furnaces and getting ready for Thanksgiving. I do think the timing is extra cruel,” she said.
The federal government has proposed a rule change would cut roughly $90 million from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, cutting almost 25 schools from the program if it’s approved as proposed.
But a press release sent on Wednesday concerns another change which is actually the third proposed change this year.
Horton said the White House and USDA are proposing rule changes because they weren’t able to get Congress to make cuts to SNAP, known in Vermont as 3SquaresVT, during the legislative process.
“Ever since then, this administration has been looking for ways to essentially subvert the will of Congress as expressed in the Farm Bill, by going through a rule-change making process to try different ways to cut the program,” she said.
Horton said Congress did not cut SNAP funding, which could have been done through the Farm Bill, but in some ways the program was made stronger instead.
The change would block states from making their own calculations about how much utility costs can be a factor in the amount of food assistance provided to those who are facing food insecurity.
The problem is expected to be worse in Vermont. The nonprofit website, New Food Economy, explains that Vermont, because of its long and cold winters, has a different standard.
“It’s difficult to keep track of utilities expenses for every single household, so some states set a flat rate for utilities. These allowances range from less than $300 in Arkansas to more than $800 in Vermont,” the website said.
Horton said people are allowed to qualify for food assistance based on their income. Certain expenses, like medical or child care expenses, can be used to modify the income calculation.
Utility costs have been another another category but the proposed change could prevent states like Vermont, where utility costs can be higher than similar costs in states with more moderate weather, from being as flexible as they are now.
Right now, this proposed change is in the mandated public comment period.
The comments can be submitted by individuals and groups, such as organizations, companies, agencies and coalitions, but must be in by Dec. 2.
Vermonters can visit www.hungerfreevt.org/protect3squaresvt for more information, resources, tips and template language that can be used to create comments or share the food-assistance funding issue with personal networks or social media.
Horton said if the comments are not enough to convince the federal government not to cut food-assistance funding, the changes will likely be challenged by individual states. Vermont is one of the states asking the courts to block one of the three proposed changes.
The second proposed change, which would most directly affect schools, has just left the comment period.
According to Horton, there were about 100,000 comments submitted nationally. In Vermont, 1% of the population submitted comments.
“We’re really proud of Vermont,” she said.