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Roughly 200,000 Pennsylvanians could lose food stamp benefits under the Trump administration’s proposed limits to eligibility requirements, the state’s Department of Human Services said Monday.

The eligibility rollback could exacerbate the so-called “benefits cliff” that exists in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to opponents of the change, creating a Catch-22 situation for some working families.

Gov. Tom Wolf described the federal proposal as “ludicrous” and warned the lack of food assistance could have wider economic impacts.

“Depriving people of the means for adequate sustenance and a healthier life is cruel and inhumane,” Wolf said.

But the Trump administration says the restrictions are needed to crack down on states that have conferred SNAP eligibility on people beyond what the federal government intended.

“Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a news release. The United States Department of Agriculture began its 60-day comment period on the proposed rule last week.

Currently, states are allowed to confer “categorical eligibility” for SNAP on those who receive other benefits provided through the state-federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the nation’s primary welfare system.

The federal cutoff for SNAP is 130 percent of the poverty line, roughly $27,700 for a family of three. Pennsylvania, and many other states, extends this up to 160 percent of the poverty line through categorical eligibility. Households with a disabled person or a member over 60 can receive benefits up to 200 percent of the poverty line.

The Trump administration proposal would limit categorical eligibility for SNAP to those who have received at least $50 in TANF benefits for at least six months or more, cutting out short-term beneficiaries.

The TANF benefits must also be either cash or “work-supporting” programs — namely subsidized employment or child care benefits paid for through TANF — in order to confer categorical eligibility under the new rules.

The rules are intended to prevent states from conferring categorical eligibility by providing minor benefits, such as literature printed with TANF funds, the Trump administration said.

It wasn’t clear on Monday, according to the state DHS, what Pennsylvania programs would continue to confer categorical eligibility if and when the new federal rules go into effect. Much of the funding for the state’s child care and early education programs falls, technically, under the TANF umbrella.

This is particularly crucial because families with children receive more SNAP benefits, and would thus have more to lose if their categorical eligibility goes away.

Without categorical eligibility, SNAP benefits will stop at 130 percent of the federal poverty line, although this hard cap is often a moot point for those who don’t have major income deductions for child care or housing costs, as their benefits have tapered off well before the 130 percent mark under the federal formula.

But those who live and work in higher-cost areas, and those with children, continue to receive significant assistance up to the 130 percent line, and beyond, if they are categorically eligible in their state.

For example, according to the most recent SNAP tables, the federal poverty line for a family of three is $1,732 per month. That family, spending $1,000 per month on child care and $700 per month on rent and utilities, would still receive about $275 per month in food assistance even after they hit 130 percent of the poverty line.

But without categorical eligibility, if the parent received a pay raise, they would immediately lose this payout.

Even once they reached 140 percent of the poverty line, that family would still have $102 less in total monthly resources than they did at 130 percent of the poverty line, per calculations by The Sentinel.

The proposed rule change “would be particularly harsh for working families with incomes close to SNAP’s gross income threshold of 130 percent of the poverty line, who would be at risk of being cut off of SNAP if they got a modest wage increase or worked slightly more hours,” according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank.

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Email Zack at zhoopes@cumberlink.com.

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