Many members of the public spoke out last month against the Trump administration's proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which could take away benefits from as many as 3 million U.S. residents, including 300,000 Texans.
More than 14,000 people, including many Texas residents, left comments during the administration's 60-day public comment period, which wrapped up last week. Among the commenters was Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who signed a letter with 70 other mayors denouncing the changes to the food stamp program, and Cece Cox, the CEO of Dallas-based nonprofit Resource Center, which offers LGBTQ and HIV support services.
“(The changes are) going to be harmful to individuals who are already struggling,” Cox said.
The changes eliminate Texas' use of a provision called “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which allows states to set SNAP benefit qualifications based on the needs of their specific populations. Because most states use this system, federal guidelines have not kept up with inflation and do not reflect current cost of living requirements. Nevertheless, the changes would require states, including Texas, to revert to the federal guidelines.
Most of the comments appear to be against the rule change. The commenters focus on the fear that U.S. citizens, especially children, will go hungry. Some call out the administration for hatred of the poor and a lack of caring for its citizens. Others share stories about how people they know will be affected. Most thoughts are typed out, but a handful of hand-written notes appear among the 290 pages of comments.
On a lined, 4-by-6-inch note card, Wendy Kolthoff, of Texas, wrote: "please reconsider kicking out the people who are on snap [sic]. These people are underpaid anyways. We should have reasonable expectations for people to survive."
In part of her commentary, Linda Seaborn, another Texas resident, wrote: "Preventing citizens, and in particular children, from suffering the effects of nutritional deprivation, must be a priority for a civilized nation. How can the US call itself civilized if it's [sic] most vulnerable members go without food?"
In addition to the thousands of individuals who wrote in, a number of organizations posted signed letters expressing concern for the future of those on food stamps. Among those is a letter from the advocacy group MomsRising, signed by 10,309 mothers, requesting the withdrawal of the proposed rules.
"SNAP plays a critical role in addressing hunger and food insecurity in our community. It is the first line of defense against hunger for low-income residents. We hear from moms daily about how nutrition support programs like SNAP make a massive difference in the day-to-day life of struggling families," it reads.
The proposed rules changes stand to hit some populations more than others.
Cox's organization offers a variety of services, including mental health support, education and advocacy for the LGBTQ community. It also provides preventive services, including sexually transmitted infection testing. For HIV-positive clients, the Resource Center offers some primary care services, a food pantry, a hot meal program and fully staffed dental clinic. Case workers, which are required by the state of Texas, are also provided through the organization to clients who require insurance assistance.
Because of the way their funding works, Resource Center clients are low and moderate income. Of the roughly 1,800 HIV-positive North Texans assisted by the center's HIV services, 482 receive SNAP aid, Cox said.
When HIV attacks the body, it burns up calories. In order to stay healthy and fight the infection, HIV-positive patients need increased calorie intake, which costs more money than an average healthy person needs to spend to eat, Cox said.
According to the World Health Organization, an asymptomatic person with HIV needs to increase their food intake by about 10% to maintain body weight. For a person exhibiting symptoms, that number increases to between 20% and 30%.
If clients are kicked off of food stamps, Cox worries they will no longer be able to afford the food that keeps them healthy and strong to fight the infection. A balanced and healthy diet is critical to maintaining a healthy immune system, one that is able to fend off attacks from the virus. Medications that help keep patients healthy also need to be taken with food, Cox said.
“So food is super important,” she said. “All this has to be able to work together.”
The Resource Center's food bank offers fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy, among other healthy food essentials. Clients are allowed to visit the food bank once a week. If the changes to SNAP are implemented, Cox expects demand to increase. Healthy foods are expensive to buy at the grocery store, and when people can't afford to buy them, they turn to filling but nutrition-deficient processed foods, Cox said.
Clients who are forced to fall back on this kind of eating pattern because they no longer receive food stamps will invariably get sicker.
“They will be a pull on the public health system, which we're all paying for with our taxes,” Cox said.
The broader Dallas community will suffer too — an estimated 7.5% of all Texans currently using SNAP benefits would no longer be eligible.
In the letter signed by Johnson, the United States Conference of Mayors wrote that the changes will hurt children, elderly and other vulnerable members of the population.
“As Mayors, we serve as the CEOs of the nation’s cities; and remain most concerned about any proposal that will reduce improvements to the health of our residents, weaken nutrition programs, deteriorate advances to healthy food access, and spur declines in local and regional economies,” the letter says.
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