Hawaii Low-Income Earners Could Lose Aid Under Proposed Federal SNAP Rule Change

Dec 10, 2019

President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed rule changes to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that could make it more difficult for low-income families in Hawaii to qualify for assistance.

The rule would prevent Hawaii — with its high cost of living — to waive federal income and asset requirements to qualify for SNAP, popularly known as food stamps.

People in the state can qualify for the program if their income reaches up to 200 percent of the poverty level, provided they can demonstrate that their living costs are high. 

Nicole Woo, a senior policy analyst with the advocacy group Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, explained why the higher income limit is important.

“Here in Hawaii, it’s pretty easy for a working family, especially one with kids, to show that they have high costs,” she said. “Housing is part of the cost that counts toward that income flexibility and we have very high housing costs here.” But that flexibility is threatened with the proposed change.

The rule change could also disqualify those with assets. In Hawaii, there are currently no asset limits to qualify for SNAP. That could be eliminated. Instead, the federal asset limit of $2,250 or $3,500, if you are a senior or have a disability, would apply.

“We want to encourage savings and we want people to have a cushion if they have a car repair bill or a medical bill,” Woo said. “It’s going to affect folks like seniors who might have some savings because it will kick them off [SNAP].”

Hawaii Appleseed estimated that about 4,600 children could also lose the free school lunch they receive automatically under SNAP if their families can no longer qualify for the program.

“Anything that drops our SNAP numbers has other effects. It starts to affect our free school lunch numbers and it makes it harder for students and for schools to provide free meals,” Woo said.

Another SNAP rule change that removed work requirement waivers for able-bodied adults without a disability has already been finalized and will go into place April 1, 2020.

These types of SNAP rule adjustments can be implemented by the Trump administration without congressional approval.

The administration wants to make it harder for people to qualify for SNAP in order to save the government billions of dollars over multiple years.