A proposed change to the federal food assistance program could affect thousands of Hawaii residents if it goes into effect as proposed.
The Trump Administration wants to change the eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Specifically, the proposal would eliminate what's known as broad-based categorical eligibility, which is a waiver that 40 states use to qualify recipients for the program.
That means households may lose their benefits if their income is higher than the standard federal eligibility cut-off. This could prevent local households from saving money or accepting a small raise.
More than 14,000 Hawaii residents could be affected by the proposed rule change.
"Seniors can be particularly harmed by this new rule," said Daniela Kittinger, director of Anti-Hunger Initiatives with the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. "Right now, a lot of seniors are living on fixed incomes, but they might have assets like a retirement account or a home that they own. That would restrict their eligibility without this waiver."
Schools would also be affected by the proposed rule change. The state Department of Education uses SNAP eligibility to determine which schools can receive free and reduced-cost lunch. It is also used to qualify students for free summer lunches in certain communities.
The proposed change could further have impacts on the local economy.
"SNAP is a really important economic stimulus," said Kittinger. "There's been studies by previous administrations, within the USDA, that have shown that, for every dollar in SNAP that's spent, there's a $1.89 in economic benefits."
According to the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, approximately $3.4 million a year in SNAP funding goes to local grocery stores and other food retailers across the state. Kittinger says the compound interest of losing that funding could be much greater.
The Trump Administration is accepting comments on the proposed rule until Sept. 23.