The USDA is withdrawing a rule proposed during the Trump Administration that would have revoked up to 3 million people’s SNAP eligibility.

The proposed rule, which was published in July 2019, would have rewritten the categorical eligibility requirement that granted SNAP eligibility to anyone receiving benefits or services through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. In some states, receiving a brochure or hotline referral counts as a service through TANF.

The effect of broad-based categorical eligibility like the TANF provision, which the proposal sought to change, was that people who met the state income limit — which in some cases is 200% of the federal poverty limit — could still qualify for SNAP. 

The USDA’s withdrawal of the proposed rule comes almost two years after the proposal sparked controversy between the USDA and legislators.

Former Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the proposal “better [aligned] SNAP with other means-tested programs nationwide.” 

But Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., then the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the rule "would take away food from families, prevent children from getting school meals, and make it harder for states to administer food assistance.”

House Democrats also challenged the 2019 proposal in an Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing. Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said that the 2018 farm bill did not contain these tightened eligibility requirements and accused the USDA of circumventing congressional authority. 

“The department’s own analysis says the rule will drop 9% of the current recipients from the rolls, including 13.2% of all households with one or more elderly person and 7.4% of households with children," Bishop said.

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The USDA’s own analysis, released by the Food and Nutrition Service, also indicated that 982,000 children would have no longer been automatically eligible for free school lunches. Roughly 96% of those children would still qualify for free or reduced-priced school lunches, but they would have to apply for the program separately, increasing the administrative burden on states. And about 40,000 of those children would no longer be eligible because their family incomes exceeded 185% of the federal poverty line.

At the October 2019 hearing, Brandon Lipps, USDA’s former deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services, said the expansion of eligibility that extended categorical eligibility to TANF brochure recipients cast a “negative reflection” on SNAP. He said the USDA would move forward with the proposed rule.

The USDA’s withdrawal notice says that they had received 158,000 comments on the proposal, most opposing it and many citing concerns regarding food insecurity, increased state administrative burdens, and unnecessary obstacles to participate in the program.

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