The Trump administration is seeking to dramatically cut food aid to large American families as part of its wide-ranging budget proposal to shrink the social safety net, Agriculture Department officials said Tuesday.
The measure is a small part of the administration’s radical plan to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, by $193 billion over 10 years. The plan would slash the number of people who rely on the SNAP program, which covers 44 million people.
On Monday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney signaled that the administration would achieve that goal in part by limiting eligibility to unemployed adult participants. But in the administration's full budget proposal, and in a call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Michael Young said the administration is seeking to slash SNAP benefits to another population as well: low-income households of more than six people, the majority of which include young children.
The administration’s plan would cap the maximum monthly benefits for all families at the current threshold for a family of six, Young said. That effectively means that additional family members would be indiscriminately booted from the program.
Although the affected population is not large — slightly fewer than 200,000 SNAP households have more than six people — USDA data suggests that it is highly vulnerable. To qualify for SNAP, a family of eight must have a gross annual income of $53,000 or less. The majority of these large households include children under 12 years old and also tend to include more women than men.
Anti-hunger advocates are deriding the proposed cuts.
“This all derives from that old canard that people have more children to get more welfare benefits,” said Craig Gundersen, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois who has studied SNAP for 20 years. “The amount of money you get for each additional child is not significant. No one is looking at that and saying, ‘I think I’ll have more kids because of it’ … It’s totally inconsistent with the goals of SNAP as an anti-hunger program.”
Under SNAP’s long-standing rules, benefit amounts are calculated according to an applicant’s income, location and family size. In most of the country, the maximum allotment increases by $120 to $150 per month — about $4 to $5 per day — for every extra person in the house.
But the Trump administration proposal would change that for large households, capping the amount they can receive, regardless of size, at $925 per month. For a family of nine, that would decrease the maximum benefit from $1,315 — about $4.87 per person per day — to approximately $3.43. That is significantly lower than even the most conservative amount the USDA says is needed to feed a family.
In a separate, closely related measure, Trump’s budget also proposes eliminating the minimum SNAP allotment of $16 per month for households with one or two people. The individuals who receive the SNAP minimum are most frequently low-income seniors and people with disabilities who have smaller households and higher incomes relative to others in their cohort. According to the Center for Budget Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, the change would eliminate almost 2 million of those beneficiaries from the program.
“The unemployed, the elderly, and low-income working families with children would bear the brunt of the cuts,” CBPP’s Stacy Dean wrote in a Tuesday analysis.
Young, the deputy agriculture secretary, did not explain the rationale behind either of the proposed cuts in the SNAP program, and the USDA did not immediately respond to a request for more details. But both were rolled out as part of a larger, comprehensive policy plan.
During Tuesday’s media call, Young said that all the proposed cuts — not only to SNAP, but to USDA programs including farm subsidies, research and rural development — are necessary, if difficult, sacrifices.
“This is all part of our bigger policy goal to get the budget balanced over 10 years,” he said.