‘Enough is enough,’ Pa. Human Services’ secretary says of White House’s planned food stamps cuts

Secretary of Human Services Teresa Miller, foreground, with Gov. Tom Wolf, background. (Courtesy of Wolf administration)

A Trump administration plan to change eligibility requirements to a program allowing food stamp recipients to use a portion of their benefits to pay their utility bills is “cruel and mean-spirited,” Pennsylvania Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said Tuesday. 

During a conference call with journalists, Miller said the White House’s proposed changes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s utility allowance would affect as many as 775,000 households.

The utility assistance program allows SNAP recipients, as food stamp beneficiaries are formally known, to deduct a portion of their earnings from their income to receive a higher SNAP benefits to pay their utility bills. 

This allowance is determined when a household becomes SNAP-eligible.

In July, the administration announced it planned to cut SNAP costs by $4.5 billion over five years. 

Broad Based Categorical Eligibility, which gives states the ability to determine appropriate income thresholds based on cost of living and utility rates — which now vary from state-to-state — would be eliminated in favor of a standardized formula to calculate monthly utility allowance benefits.

Miller argued Tuesday that Pennsylvania and other northeastern states will be disproportionately affected by the changes because the region’s dependence on deliverable energy sources, such as coal, wood, propane and kerosene. 

The White House’s plan does not account for that dependence,while the broad-based approach does, she said.

“These proposed changes to SNAP will only increase hunger and food insecurity across Pennsylvania and will disproportionately impact working families, people with disabilities and seniors, Miller said in a statement.. “This rule would force families who rely on SNAP to choose between putting food on their table or other necessities such as heating their home or paying for medical costs.”

Under the broad-based policy, a Pennsylvania family of four is eligible for SNAP benefits if they earn no more than $40,000 a year. With the proposed changes, the limit drops to $32,000.

Seniors would also be affected, seeing their single-person income limit fall from $24,000 to just $15,000.

The department has submitted multiple comments rebuking proposed changes to the national SNAP program. But Miller said the agency has yet to receive a response or get more clarification from the federal government.

“We have not been consulted at all,” Miller said. “We just get surprised by another rule and then we respond to that.”

Miller expressed further concern over the data the federal government was using to develop a standardized approach, saying that the age of reports ranged from four to eight years old.

Citing the vague nature of the proposal, Miller couldn’t comment on the specific dollar-by-dollar changes modifications like this could make to an individual’s benefits.

“The uncertainty leads to a lot of frustration on our part,” she said. “We’re just very concerned what the impact could look like.” 

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.