OpEd: We must stand up to Trump, protect nutrition assistance for Vt. families
Back-to-school season has begun across America. Millions of children have returned to classrooms, ready to start a new school year. Now, thanks to the Trump administration, hundreds of thousands of struggling families — including many Vermonters — may have to worry about how they will be able to afford their child's lunch every day.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently unveiled a shameful new rule that could deny over half a million needy students free school meals.
The Trump administration proposal would also kick over 3 million people off of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps. We stand with the state of Vermont and Hunger Free Vermont and dozens of our colleagues in Congress in opposing this rule.
Right now, states can allow low-income families who have already qualified for federal assistance programs to be automatically enrolled in other programs. This option has a proven track record of reducing the paperwork burden for both families and states while extending support to those in need. The Trump administration would eliminate that automatic enrollment option to all states for nutrition assistance, in a move that targets working families, seniors, and people with disabilities.
SNAP is a successful program that lifted 8.4 million people across the country out of poverty in 2015 alone. Vermont's automatic enrollment of SNAP recipients is an important piece of the program's success. It allows families to build the assets they need to lift themselves out of poverty without fearing that they will lose their benefits. A single parent shouldn't have to choose between a promotion and school lunch for their children.
Last fall, Congress passed a five-year Farm Bill, reauthorizing SNAP. Congress debated reducing access to SNAP, including this proposal to deny states the option of automatic enrollment, and rejected any such change. Both the House and Senate recognized SNAP as a critical tool in the fight against poverty and ensured access to food for millions of Americans. The President signed that law. Now his administration is proposing an end-run around Congress by pushing this rule to kick millions off of nutrition assistance.
We know this Trump proposal will directly affect Vermonters. According to the State of Vermont, which administers SNAP locally through the 3SquaresVT program, 21 percent of students would be kicked off 3SquaresVT. Because students who access 3SquaresVT are automatically eligible for free lunch, more than 4,500 Vermont children — three times the number of kids who attend our state's largest public high school — would be deprived of free meals. This will have an even greater impact on those Vermont schools where participation in 3SquaresVT determines universal school meal programs, school and library technology support, and student-loan forgiveness for teachers.
If the President is motivated by cost, then he should end welfare for the rich, by repealing the $1.3 trillion tax cut that overwhelming benefited the wealthiest people in the country and large corporations. If he is worried about overreliance on government programs, he should end the tax avoidance schemes for the rich that he helped create.
It is obscene that in the wealthiest country in world history, 40 million people live in poverty, including over 12 million children. We are committed to fighting this administration's effort to punish millions of America's poor and deny them food. We must work together to preserve the programs that lift people out of poverty and provide healthy, nutritious meals to our schoolchildren.
If you wish to learn more about how the Trump administration's proposal would affect Vermont or to leave a comment for the Trump administration about the proposed rule you may do so here: https://www.hungerfreevt.org/protect3squaresvt.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) represent the State of Vermont in the United States Congress.
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