About a half-million students could lose access to free school meals under a Trump administration proposal to limit the number of people who qualify for food stamps, drawing protests from congressional Democrats who say it could harm needy schoolchildren.

The change, proposed over the summer, would cut an estimated 3 million people from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. It is intended to eliminate eligibility for people who get food stamps because they have qualified for other forms of government aid, even though they may have savings or other assets.

But the impact of the cuts is anticipated to go further: Children in those households could also lose access to free school lunches, since food stamp eligibility is one way students can qualify for the lunches.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in July that the change was intended to cut families that the administration thinks do not need food stamp aid.

“The American people expect their government to be fair, efficient, and to have integrity — just as they do in their own homes, businesses, and communities,” Perdue said. “That is why we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.”

Nearly one in seven children came from households that were considered “food insecure” in 2018. Recognizing that many households rely on schools for food, some school systems have begun feeding their students through the summertime.

The comment period for the proposed rule closed Monday, bringing it one step closer to taking effect. Children affected by the change would lose eligibility next school year, but they may still qualify under other criteria. Some high-poverty schools offer free meals to all students, regardless of their household income.

The Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and Labor in a letter Tuesday called on Perdue to halt the rule, protesting that the department did not publicize the estimated number of students who could lose free lunch eligibility during the comment period for the regulation, when interested groups could weigh in on it.

“Both the SNAP and school meals programs are critical in combating food insecurity among children, ensuring children are fed nutritiously in school, during the summer and in other care settings,” they wrote. “By undermining access to these essential programs, the proposed rule would worsen child food insecurity, with detrimental effects on children’s academic outcomes, health and more.”

Brooke Hardison, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department, said the figure was not published because the department only included information about the impact on the food stamp program — not the ripple effects on the school lunch and other programs. “Since the proposal does not make changes to child nutrition program policy or regulations, information regarding children who are directly certified to receive free school meals was not prepared for, or included in, the analysis developed for this SNAP rule,” Hardison said.

Audra McGeorge, a spokeswoman for the Republicans on the Education and Labor Committee, said the concerns are overblown.

“The vast majority of students will continue to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals if this rule were to be finalized,” McGeorge said.