August 15, 2019(1)

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

Call to Action: Support Categorical Eligibility

Earlier this summer, USDA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would limit states’ability to implement Broad-based Categorical Eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – which provides eligible low-income households with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that can be used at authorized grocery stores. Under current law, families may become SNAP-eligible by either (1) meeting program-specific federal eligibility requirements, or (2) being deemed automatic or “categorically" eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant (TANF).

Originally, TANF was designed as a broad-purposed block grant to finance a wide range of social welfare activities, including government-subsidized employment, childcare, and cash. By automatically enrolling TANF eligible households in SNAP, the Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) program enabled states to support families on the cusp of the federal poverty line through short-term financial crises by ensuring their continued access to food security. Cat El also benefited schools by making TANF students automatically eligible for Free and Reduced Priced Lunch. 

The proposed rule by USDA is slated to have the following effects: 

  1. It will require TANF recipients to receive aid for 6-months or more before determining whether a household is eligible to receive SNAP benefits; 
  2. The rule will limit types of non-cash TANF benefits conferring categorical eligibility to those that focus on subsidized employment; and 
  3. The change will require state agencies to inform the Food Nutritional Service of all non-cash TANF benefits that confer categorical eligibility.  

If passed, the Cat El rule will hurt students by taking away food security from thousands of TANF households and creating a more onerous application process for families trying to receive SNAP benefits. For schools, the consequences of the rule will be felt immediately, as more than 500,000 students will no longer qualify for free school meals. Moreover, approximately 3.1 million families will lose their SNAP benefits. 

Remember, in 2019 we're asking all our members to take their advocacy up to the next level. Here is your chance to let USDA know that this is unacceptable. Comments must be filed on or before September 23rd. To help broadcast the importance of Cat El for students and schools you can file comments by copying and pasting this letter to the following link! If you're looking for something shorter, feel free to copy and paste an abridged template for filing comments here.