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Supervisors oppose federal efforts to limit food stamps

LOS ANGELES — The county Board of Supervisors voted July 30 to oppose federal efforts to limit food stamp eligibility, which would affect an estimated 40,000 Los Angeles County residents.

Supervisor Hilda Solis recommended sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the county’s congressional delegates.

“The Trump administration is proposing callous rules that would limit Americans’ access to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, referred to as CalFresh in California,” Solis said. “Such action would affect 3 million Americans who rely on the nation’s most successful anti-poverty program to access healthy food. L.A. County recognizes that food insecurity is a matter of public health, and these heartless proposed rule changes would have a pronounced effect on county residents.”

The proposed rule would take away states’ ability to extend eligibility to households with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty line or roughly $50,000 a year for a family with two children. That flexibility was granted by Congress in 1996.

Federal officials estimate that nearly 8% of beneficiaries qualify under expanded eligibility, which the Department of Agriculture calls a “loophole.” The department pointed to the case of a Minnesota millionaire who qualified for food stamps after applying to highlight what he viewed as taxpayer waste.

“Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement issued last week. “The American people expect their government to be fair, efficient and to have integrity — just as they do in their own homes, businesses and communities. That is why we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.”

The Agriculture Department also wants to exclude beneficiaries with more than $2,250 in eligible assets from receiving food stamps. The department estimates an overall savings of more than $2 billion annually from the proposed changes.

The county’s Department of Public Social Services estimates that more than 120,000 California households — including 40,000 in Los Angeles County — would be affected.

Members of the board and education advocates said children would be the biggest losers.

An estimated 500,000 children nationwide could lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals under the proposal, according to Los Angeles County Office of Education Superintendent Debra Duardo.

“Research has shown that access to free and reduced-price school meals allows low-income students to stay engaged and learn,” Duardo said in a statement issued after the board vote. “Removing this access would have a detrimental impact on student academic performance and success in school.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that children represented 60% of CalFresh beneficiaries in 2016, the last year for which data is available.

“Those who stand to lose … are those who are the most vulnerable among us,” Ridley-Thomas said, which includes seniors on fixed incomes and community college students, many of whom experience “food insecurity.”

Food insecurity is defined as a lack of reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the proposed change is part of a larger pattern.

“It feels like the current president has announced a program called the War on the Impoverished,” Kuehl said, drawing a contrast with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a War on Poverty in 1964.

The proposed rule change is subject to a 60-day public comment period.

Those who stand to lose … are those who are the most vulnerableamong us.”

— County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas