public-policy article

Administration Proposes Third SNAP Regulation This Year

October 29, 2019

On October 3rd, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a Proposed Rule on the Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances. The regulation would prevent states from establishing utility and housing allowances when determining Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This provision allows individuals and families who spend more than half their income on shelter-related bills such as rent, heat, and water to receive nominally more assistance. The third proposed cut to SNAP this year is projected to cut $4,500,000,000 in SNAP benefits over the next five years.

Under current law, the utility expenses of each participating household plays a role in determining allotted benefits for families. States are permitted to adjust household benefits based on a state-specific Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) calculation, or the average that each household is expected to spend on utilities in a given year. The current policy allows for flexibility in SUAs to accommodate for differences in utility costs and rates. The proposed rule would establish national SUA calculations based on survey data methodology. The new methodology would set the heating and cooling standard utility allowance (HCSUA), at the 80th percentile of low-income households’ utility costs in the State. This change would ensure that many SNAP recipients in areas with high utilities costs would no longer be eligible for benefits.

According to the USDA’s own estimate, this proposed rule would reduce monthly benefits for approximately 19 percent of households currently receiving SNAP. Additionally, 8,000 recipients  would lose their benefits altogether. The rule would have divergent geographical impacts, with colder northern states receiving the majority SNAP cuts due to increased heating costs, and would disproportionately impact older adults and people with disabilities who may spend more on utilities due to dependence on power wheelchairs, ventilators, and other essential devices.

This latest USDA rulemaking marks another in a pattern of regulatory change by the current Administration in a clear effort to subvert Congressional budget authority in order to make deep cuts to SNAP benefits. The administration pushed for similar language in last year’s Farm Bill, but Congress specifically chose not to make a change to SUA methodology.

The National Assembly strongly opposes the proposed rule because it would harm SNAP accessibility for children, families, people with disabilities, and older adults. 

Take Action

The public comment period for this rule is open until December 2nd. Public comments should be unique, and highlight any expertise your organization has on the subject. The National Assembly will be submitting public comments on the rule, and will update accordingly.