SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A pair of Oregon nonprofits that combat hunger and food insecurity criticized a proposed federal rule change that could result in 3.1 million people losing food aid benefits nationwide.
The Statesman Journal reports that it's currently unclear how many people in Oregon would be at risk for losing access to the program commonly known as food stamps, but Oregon Food Bank and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon said they believe it could hurt Oregonians.
The proposed rule change from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published Wednesday, would sever a tie between the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program and SNAP. Currently in 43 states, including Oregon, families who qualify for TANF automatically qualify for SNAP benefits.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue called it a "loophole."
"Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint," he said in a statement. "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."
Annie Kirschner, executive director of Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, said the proposed change "would take away food from families in Oregon."
If the rule is adopted, those on TANF would have to apply separately for SNAP. The federal government estimates about 3 million people would not otherwise meet the requirements for SNAP. If so, it would save the government billions.
According to DHS figures as of 2017, around 911,000 people in Oregon were part of the SNAP program and almost 100,000 were receiving benefits through TANF. Eligibility is determined by factors including monthly income and number of dependent children.
Susannah Morgan, CEO of the Oregon Food Bank, questioned why a rule change would be considered that might put 3.1 million Americans at greater risk of hunger.
"The families most likely to lose benefits are usually working, sometimes more than one job, saving a little," she said.
Policy experts at the Oregon Department of Human Services are currently trying to determine how many people in Oregon might be at risk for losing SNAP benefits because of the rule change. Those numbers are expected to be realized in the next few days.