Newspaper column: Sisolak opposed tighter food stamp rules

Governors of these states oppose changes in food stamp eligibility rules.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has joined 16 other Democratic governors to pen a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue demanding that a proposed change in the rules for food stamp eligibility be dropped.

This summer the Agriculture Department unveiled plans to tighten eligibility requirements for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Instead of allowing states to automatically issue food stamps to anyone receiving any federal welfare benefits, households would be eligible only if they receive at least $50 a month for six months or more from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” Secretary Perdue said in a statement. The food stamp program uses federal money but it is administered by states and local governments.

According to press accounts, the change in rules would drop 3 million of the 36 million people currently receiving food stamps and save taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

“If this rule takes effect, hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries across the United States, including 46,000 individuals right here in Nevada, would lose access to basic food assistance,” Gov. Sisolak said in a press release announcing opposition to the change. “This is an absolutely unconscionable act that would have dire impacts on the most vulnerable populations in our state, especially those with disabilities, the elderly, and low-income children on free and reduced-price school meals.”

The governor said the change would result in a loss of nearly $10 million a month for the Nevada economy, though the Foundation for Government Accountability estimates such a change could save Nevada taxpayers $77 million a year and the nation as much as $7 billion a year.

The governors’ letter states, “We shouldn’t be making it harder for struggling Americans to make ends meet and put food on the table — which is what this proposed regulation would do. As governors, we strongly urge you to rescind this proposed rule.”

The letter also complains that the change would mean higher administrative costs for states, though a couple of paragraphs later the letter claims that to qualify for food stamps all households are subject to an interview and must provide “thorough documentation to demonstrate that their monthly income and expenses, such as housing and child care costs, leave them with not enough income to afford access to adequate food.” The letter also claims there is no evidence the current eligibility rule leads to an increase in food stamps being directed to ineligible households.

Actually, this past year a Minnesota millionaire testified before his state’s legislature that — to prove a point — he applied and received $300 a month in food stamps for 19 months. Though he had property and assets in excess of a million dollars, he technically had no income. He said he gave an equivalent amount to charity.

Democratic lawmakers in Washington also oppose the tightening of eligibility rules, The Wall Street Journal quotes Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York as saying, “To cut money for people who need to be fed is just another example of the heartlessness of this administration,” adding that lawmakers will try to beat back the proposal.

“As governors, we urge you to rescind this rule to preserve the flexibility needed to meet the food and nutrition needs of the low-income populations in our states,” the governors’ letter concludes. “We should be working together, at the state and national levels, with the common goals of protecting and supporting the most vulnerable among us, ensuring all children have healthy food on their plates, and making every effort to ensure all families have the opportunity to transition out of poverty and achieve the American dream.”

The governors are arguing for wasting taxpayer dollars on people who do not truly qualify for assistance under the original intent of the law. The current lax rules waste billions of taxpayer dollars.

Other governors signing the letter include those of the states of Michigan, Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.