Nearly 1M kids could lose their eligibility for free lunch under Trump administration proposal

PHOTO: A 6-year-old elementary school students go through the lunch line in the schools cafeteria in Paducah, Ky., on July 10, 2019.PlayEllen O'nan/AP, FILE
WATCH News headlines today: Nov. 12, 2019

Nearly 1 million children could lose automatic eligibility for free school lunches under a Trump administration proposal, according to a new analysis.

The rule, proposed by the Agriculture Department, aims to restrict broader access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. But the estimate of how many children would lose their eligibility for free meals under the rule was left out of the Federal Register when the proposal was announced in July.

According to an estimated analysis by the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), "as many as 982,000 children would no longer be directly certified for free school meals based on SNAP participation.”

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, chairman of the House Education and Labor committee, released a statement on Wednesday calling for the agency to "abandon" its proposed rule.

"The internal analysis released by the Department of Agriculture shows that the impact of its proposed rule would be even worse than we had feared,” Scott said. "According to its own projections, the proposed changes to SNAP eligibility would eliminate automatic access for free school meals for nearly 1 million children, and roughly half of those children would no longer be eligible for free school meals at all."

PHOTO: A 6-year-old elementary school students go through the lunch line in the schools cafeteria in Paducah, Ky., on July 10, 2019. Ellen Onan/AP, FILE
A 6-year-old elementary school students go through the lunch line in the school's cafeteria in Paducah, Ky., on July 10, 2019.

The additional analysis was released by the Agriculture Department earlier this week, and in a news release, the department said it would reopen the public comment period for 14 days to "provide the public an opportunity to review and provide comment on this document as part of the rulemaking record.”

The publication of the new analysis’ comes after Scott requested the information in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue following the announcement of the proposed rule.

Scott’s July 26 letter said that during a phone briefing with committee staff, the FNS estimated the proposed rule would "result in more than 500,000 children losing their automatic eligibility for free school meals.”

The proposed rule came after Congress initially failed to come to an agreement on SNAP benefits in the 2018 farm bill, and looks to limit access to SNAP benefits by not automatically enrolling individuals who are also receiving minimal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

When the rule was proposed, the department said in a press release that the proposed rule closes a perceived "loophole” in the application process to ensure the program provides benefits "with consistency and integrity to those most in need.”

"While I appreciate that the USDA finally released its analysis, which I requested several times over the last three months, this small step forward in transparency is overshadowed by a tremendous step backward in the fight against child hunger,” Scott said.