OpEd: Trump pursues devastating cut to basic food assistance for Vermonters

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Last week, the Trump administration announced its latest attempt to take food away from over 3 million veterans, families and older Americans in need by forcing Vermont and 42 other states to change the way they have run the SNAP program (3SquaresVT in Vermont) for over 20 years. "Broad-based categorical eligibility" affords Vermont the flexibility to enable access to critical 3SquaresVT benefits for vulnerable low-income Vermonters (including working families, children, veterans, older adults, and people with disabilities). Hunger Free Vermont and the Vermont Foodbank strongly oppose this proposal, which will increase hunger and hardship for thousands of Vermonters and millions of Americans.

For over 40 years, 3SquaresVT has been our nation's first line of defense against hunger, because it works. It provides, on average, over 70,000 Vermonters and 40 million Americans with money to spend on food in grocery stores and farmers markets each month. It is proven to reduce hunger, lift people out of poverty, and leads to positive short and long-term health, education, and employment outcomes.

Categorical eligibility helps 3SquaresVT reach households that are working and may have slightly higher incomes but significant expenses (such as high housing costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and childcare costs), or while working and saving a few thousand dollars for expenses like increased heating costs in the winter or a security deposit on an apartment. It makes 3SquaresVT even more effective and responsive to the needs of food insecure Vermonters, and is used by most states in the US. All of these households still need to apply and meet the same requirements as anyone else in order to receive benefits.

We know that many families in Vermont who are working are still struggling to make ends meet; many rely on food shelves and other assistance to feed their families. This year, one in four Vermonters will visit a food shelf. This number is far greater than the number of Vermonters who are able to participate in 3SquaresVT, which highlights that these programs already don't do enough to eliminate hunger for many working families.

Eliminating or restricting categorical eligibility will harm Vermonters, and weaken our nation's most effective anti-hunger program. Those likely to be affected by this proposal disproportionately are working families with children, and research shows that food insecure children have higher rates of fair and poor health, higher rates of hospitalization, and delays in cognitive development, among other health issues. Ensuring that children have access to a program that is proven to reduce food insecurity and poverty is essential — we should be increasing benefits, rather than putting working families at risk of increased hunger and hardship.

This proposal is another in a long line of attempts by this administration to demonize low-income Americans and keep them from applying for programs that help them and their families get what they need to thrive. Despite the fact that Congress recently passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that considered and rejected this change, the Trump Administration is attempting to bypass the legislative branch by enacting it through administrative action. Blaming struggling families will not solve hunger in America. The real issue is that millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet and aren't able to access enough food to grow, learn, and stay healthy. If the Trump Administration was truly concerned about food insecurity, it would be working to increase wages and improve access to housing, health care, and food assistance, instead of repeatedly proposing severe cuts to programs that support low-income Americans.

This dangerous proposal is not yet final, and there is a 60-day public comment period where individuals and organizations can have their voices heard. Together, we can fight this cruel, unjust, and unnecessary proposal and show that Vermonters believe in supporting our neighbors during times of need so that they can move out of a place of poverty. We will be launching an advocacy campaign in the coming weeks with our partners throughout Vermont and the country and will be sharing information at www.hungerfreevt.org/protect3squaresvt. We will provide support so you can take action and raise your voice to help make sure that 3SquaresVT continues to be available for all of us who may need it.

If you feel unable to meet your food needs, please still check if you're eligible use this important resource. We'll keep working to make it more robust and helpful. To learn if you're eligible, text VFBSNAP to 85511 or call 1-855-855-6181.

Anore Horton is executive director of Hunger Free Vermont. She lives in South Burlington. John Sayles is the CEO of Vermont Foodbank. He lives in Barre.

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