The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)[i] appreciates this opportunity to comment on the Proposed Rule. FNS decided not to issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to request comments and research to inform the drafting of this major rule. As a result, it is difficult to discern sources that inform the Proposed Rule, other than USDA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and General Accountability Office performance auditing of SNAP implementation. IATP has anticipated a Proposed Rule that would cut SNAP benefits by reducing eligibility criteria since the beginning of the Trump administration, given the unsuccessful attempts of its officials, particularly the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to cut these benefits through the congressional appropriations process[ii] and through the White House budgetary proposals.[iii]
As FNS knows, if the Proposed Rule is finalized, the Secretary of Agriculture estimates that 3.1 million people of 40.3 million current SNAP beneficiaries will lose their benefits.[iv] Additionally, USDA would deprive 500,000 children of free school lunches and increase the paperwork burden for about 17.2 million households, many of whom might also lose SNAP benefits, according to a Congressional Research Service report.[v] The Proposed Rule estimates anticipated net Federal expenditure savings of these benefit cuts at “approximately $9.386 billion over the five years 2019–2023” (Federal Register (FR), Vol. 184, No. 42, July 24, 2019 at p. 35575). But with the federal deficit already more than $1 trillion for Fiscal Year 2019 alone,[vi] these savings are manifestly a miniscule contribution to deficit reduction and come at a very high cost to SNAP beneficiaries.
The Proposed Rule alludes to but does not publish the cost benefit analysis required by law:[vii] “The Regulatory Impact Analysis conducted by FNS in connection with this proposed rule includes a cost/ benefit analysis and explains the alternatives considered to modify categorical eligibility regulations” (FR, 35576). However, the Proposed Rule only estimates costs to the Federal government: no analysis of the estimated value of SNAP benefits, not even a summary, is published. IATP does not regard the FNS estimated cost of State agency verification of SNAP beneficiary resources as a cost benefit analysis. Because the Proposed Rule lacks a cost benefit analysis, it is unable to answer a couple of fundamental questions posed by the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center about a 2013 proposed SNAP rule: “[D]oes the cost of the additional paperwork—when categorical qualification is not used—exceed the additional costs incurred by people whose income would otherwise exclude them from participating in SNAP? Or not? If the issue is one of dollars and cents, it is a researchable problem, as economists like to say.”[viii] The Proposed Rule provides no basis for answering these and related questions, even though a cost benefit analysis must be published and submitted for the Office of Management and Budget to finalize this and any major rule.[ix]
The Proposed Rule lacks analysis of the impact on SNAP beneficiaries of the proposed changes in definitions and eligibility criteria and lacks any research or outreach to food and nutrition organizations that could provide such analysis. Data, analysis and research on the food insecurity that SNAP and other federal nutrition programs help mitigate food insecurity are available from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) on a state by state basis.[x] It does not appear that FNS availed themselves of that data and research in drafting the Proposed Rule, probably because of FNS’s attempt to curtail the discretion of States to tailor SNAP and other nutritional assistance to the needs and circumstances of their residents:
Specifically, the Department proposes: (1) To define ‘‘benefits’’ for categorical eligibility to mean ongoing and substantial benefits; and (2) to limit the types of non-cash TANF [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families block grants to States] benefits conferring categorical eligibility to those that focus on subsidized employment, work supports and childcare. The proposed rule would also require State agencies to inform FNS of all non-cash TANF benefits that confer categorical eligibility. The proposed revisions would create a clearer and more consistent nationwide policy that ensures categorical eligibility is extended only to households that have sufficiently demonstrated eligibility by qualifying for ongoing and substantial benefits from TANF-funded programs designed to assist households and move them towards self-sufficiency (FR 35570).
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[i] IATP is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) nongovernmental organization, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., with offices in Washington, D.C. and Berlin, Germany.
[ii] Steve Suppan, “Mulvaney as Budget Director: destructive for agriculture, nutrition and the environment,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, February 1, 2017. https://www.iatp.org/blog/201702/mulvaney-as-budget-director-destructive-for-nutrition-agriculture-and-the-environment
[iii] Ben Lilliston, “Trump’s Budget Spurns Rural Communities,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, February 26, 2018. https://www.iatp.org/blog/trump-spurns-rural-america
[iv] Laura Reiley, ”Trump proposal would push 3 million Americans off food stamps,” Washington Post, July 22, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/07/23/usda-proposes-snap-change-that-would-push-million-americans-off-food-stamps/
[v] “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Categorical Eligibility,” Congressional Research Service, Augusts 1, 2019. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42054.pdf
[vi] Niv Ellis, “Deficit over $1 trillion: CBO” The Hill, September 9, 2019. https://thehill.com/policy/finance/460603-deficit-surpasses-1-trillion-cbo
[vii] Maeve P. Carey, “Cost Benefit and Other Analysis Requirements in the Rulemaking Process,” Congressional Research Service, December 9, 2014. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41974.pdf
[viii] Daryll Ray and Harwood Schaefer, “SNAP program debates center on effectiveness and cost,” Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, April 26, 2013. https://nfu.org/2013/04/30/snap-program-debates-center-on-effectiveness-and-cost/
[ix] “Frequently Asked Questions: What is a major rule?” The National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/about/regulations/faqs.html
[x] E.g. https://www.frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2018-food-insecurity-data.pdf and “State by State Data, Fact Sheets and Resources,” Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, June 26, 2019. https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/snap-state-by-state-data-fact-sheets-and-resources