About 200,000 children in Florida could lose their access to free lunches under changes to the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. The Trump administration plans to cut benefits in the program as it looks to reduce waste.
One of the changes requires able-bodied adults to work at least 20 hours a week to receive benefits. That proposal is finalized and should be implemented in April.
The changes impact children because SNAP participation guarantees automatic access to free school lunches.
Congresswoman Donna Shalala, D-Miami, and Katy DeBriere, legal director and staff attorney for the Florida Health Justice Project, discussed the changes on The Florida Roundup.
This transcript was lightly edited for clarity:
The Florida Roundup: Congresswoman Shalala, hundreds of thousands of Floridians could be affected. This also, it's my understanding, affects kids on free and reduced lunch. Are you hearing about this from your constituents?
REP. DONNA SHALALA: I am. At least 70 percent of the kids in Miami-Dade County receive free lunches. And this is really devastating. SNAP is an anti-hunger program and it impacts the neediest people in our community.
I can't think of anything worse during the holidays than the government being absolute Scrooges and sending a message to our poorest families that their children will be cut off of the school lunch program, and that others will lose their food benefits. This is the most fundamental kind of program that we as Americans provide. At the simplest, it's really micromanaging the state.
The states have been managing this program. The Trump administration has decided that they're not, as they've been too generous to the most vulnerable people in the state. And therefore, they're tightening the screws on the program. Frankly, I would trust the states a little bit more. And I'm surprised that Republicans would try to micromanage state decisions about the most vulnerable people in their community.
The Florida Roundup: Katie, what options will people have here in Florida if they can no longer use their SNAP or EBIT card to buy groceries?
KATY DEBRIERE: I think we're going to see increased pressure on food banks in order to meet that coverage that over 98,000 families are going to lose SNAP. And if it's under another proposed rule, categorical elimination of categorical eligibility, which is going to greatly tamp down who is financially eligible for SNAP benefits.
We're looking at 200,000 children in the state of Florida losing those SNAP benefits. And there's no doubt in my mind those children will need to get the food from somewhere. So we're going to see increased pressure on food banks and other non-profits who fill the gap. That's already there. Between SNAP assistance and family income to feed their families.
The Florida Roundup: What about some voters out there who think people are taking advantage of this program?
SHALALA: There has not been widespread fraud in the program, and many communities have decided that everybody should get to remove the stigma of free or reduced lunches, that they want all the kids to get it, so that no kid feels ashamed because their family can't afford it. But I've seen very little fraud in the system. Even if there is some fraud in the system, that's no reason to reduce eligibility. ... We're one of the more generous states because we care about vulnerable working folks. And there are a lot of rumors out there about fraud, but when the investigators went in, they found very little.
The Florida Roundup: Katy?
DEBRIERE: I would just add to that that, of course. ... It's not as though these individuals, once they if they make an application for food stamps, automatically qualify. They have to go through both a 200 percent of the federal poverty limit, gross income tests. ...
It's a very low number. ... It's slightly less than $1,200 a month. ... And then you're looking on a net income test of 100 percent of the federal poverty limit. So we are talking about very low-income individuals and the children automatically qualify for free or reduced lunch. So that does not encapsulate the entire population of children who could be affected.
The Florida Roundup: Congresswoman Shalala, what’s the intent of the program?
SHALALA: The intent of the program is to make sure that that people don't go hungry in our country. But just as important, it supports them as they work and lift themselves out of poverty.
We want more and more people to use the support system as a transition. But for some families, they'll have it for a lifetime because they work for the very, very minimum wage. And that minimum wage does not cover their needs. We just don't want anyone in this country to go hungry now.