By ZARIA PHILLIPS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Federal officials are proposing a budget cut to food assistance that would add restrictions to 1.2 million Michigan families receiving benefits, according to Michigan advocates for low-income residents.
In 2018, President Donald Trump signed the farm bill that would expand the food assistance program and double the funding in Michigan, but the president‘s budget proposal would undermine that agreement. It must be approved by Congress before taking effect.
“Months after Congress and the Trump Administration debated and renewed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through the farm bill, the administration is proposing to take away food assistance from struggling workers and families through these harsh cuts and changes to SNAP, ” said Alex Rossman, communications director for the Michigan League for Public Policy.
The Michigan Center for Civil Justice, a nonprofit legal firm that advocates for low-income people, objects to proposed federal rules that would give able-bodied adults without disability more work requirements, much like what Michigan legislators have proposed for Medicaid recipients.
The federal law allows applicants to use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for only three months every three years unless they work 20 hours a week. States can be exempt from the three-month work requirement if they have an unemployment rate of 20 percent or higher.
The president’s proposal would lower the eligible unemployment rate to 10 percent, according to a statement by the Michigan Center for Civil Justice.
Michigan’s average rate of households without enough food is 14.3 percent. The national average for food insecurity is 13 percent. Both are much higher than the 4.1 percent rate before the Great Recession in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This budget proposal would affect two-thirds of the population that receives food assistance, said Mario Azzi, a public benefits attorney for the Center for Civil Justice in Flint.
“The federal rules for food assistance programs are much stricter than they are for Medicaid,” Azzi said. “But Michigan families haven’t really felt it because Michigan has had current work requirements waived since our unemployment rates were so high over the past decade for so.
“Now that unemployment has dropped, Michigan counties have put the requirements back and it’ll be much more difficult with this proposal to get them waived again,” Azzi said.
About 1.2 million Michigan residents rely on food assistance programs, said Lynn Sutfin, a public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Food-insecure households are scattered throughout the state with higher concentrations in the west and southeast.
Azzi said it is a big issue for rural families.
“Food is vital, like health care, too, of course, but when a home becomes food insecure, it becomes very difficult for people to operate,” Azzi said. “If we’re talking about able-bodied adults without disabilities, it’s not likely that they’re sitting around saying ‘I don’t want to work.’ Child care and transportation are substantial barriers here in Michigan.”
Northern Michigan, with its sparse population, has no consistent public transportation and people can’t get to work, Azzi said.
“Historically, Black and Hispanic households suffer from food insecurity twice as much as the average, as well,” Azzi said. “So the Center for Civil Justice has really been advocating against these proposed rules.”