The Trump administration has announced that it will be changing food stamp eligibility requirements, which could cut nutrition assistance to 688,000 Americans, including more than 3,500 in Humboldt County.
On Dec. 4, the administration announced it would be eliminating waivers that allow counties with high unemployment rates to allow able-bodied adults without dependents who work fewer than 80 hours a month to receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for more than three months. Currently, 52 of California’s 58 counties, including Humboldt, have such waivers in place.
Nationally, 13 percent of the population receives assistance buying groceries through SNAP.
According to the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, Humboldt currently has 3,606 residents who receive benefits through the program — administered as CalFresh in California — who would be impacted by the change. They receive anywhere from $16 to $194 a month in benefits, which come in the form of an EBT card that can only be used to purchase food, including fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, grains and other staples.
DHHS says the changes won’t go into effect until April 1, after which clients will have at least three months of benefits before becoming ineligible.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the rule changes will save $5.5 billion over five years but insists that’s not the aim.
“This is about restoring the original intent of food stamps,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on a call to reporters. “Moving more able-bodied Americans to self-sufficiency.”
The California Health and Human Services Agency, meanwhile, has announced
it opposes the rule change because it could harm the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of people by restricting “access to critical food assistance.”
“Food security is key to an individual’s ability to gain adequate employment, achieve and retain personal and family stability, and to enhance the health and well-being of children and families,” the agency said in a press release. “Limiting access to CalFresh food assistance does not support underemployed and unemployed people in finding work. Rather, hunger is a barrier to employment. Further, limiting access to food makes a family’s entire financial situation more precarious and increases the chances of falling into homelessness.”
The agency further argues that the economic saving estimates are overly simplistic, ignoring reverberating impacts on state economies, from retail to agricultural sectors, and noting that the USDA’s own estimates indicate every food assistance dollar spent generates $1.79 in related economic activity.
For more about CalFresh and to find out if you might be eligible, visit the DHHS website here
Editor’s Note: CalMatters contributed to this report.