RALEIGH – Hidden in the depths of the state Senate’s 2017/18 budget is language that would kick hundreds of Scotland County households off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps.
The budget proposal has passed a first reading and been sent to the committee on appropriations.
The measure tightens the state’s requirements for eligibility and lowers the income threshold requirement to receive assistance.
The move will not save the state any money because SNAP is a federally funded program and uses no state tax dollars.
Rob Thompson, a senior policy and communications advisor for NC Child, said he is baffled by the decision, which will affect more than 53,000 children statewide and approximately 100 in Scotland County.
“One thing that boggles my mind is that this has no impact on the state budget,” Thompson said. “There’s just no reason to do this.”
State Rep. Garland Pierce, who represents Scotland County, is just as flummoxed by the move as Thompson.
“I don’t know why they even bothered with that… this costs nothing to the state. I don’t know what their plan is on that,” Pierce said. “I just think it’s a bargaining chip. Some things the Senate throws out there to see how we respond to them.”
Thompson asked that anyone who cares about poverty’s effect on children call their state legislators and tell them that food assistance for children should not be cut.
Proper nutrition is crucial during childhood affecting health and school performance, according to Thompson.
The measure could also affect access to free and reduced lunch for some families.
“When you realize they could lose free lunch and reduced lunch along with SNAP benefits, for some kids that could be a lot of food they are just not going to get any more,” Thompson said.
In Scotland County, 379 people would lose their food benefits, and 133,000 individuals would be affected across the state.
The measure would not affect access to free lunch for Scotland County’s children because the school system meets the community eligibility provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act a USDA program which “allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students.”
In the 2015/16 school year, 62 percent of the county’s students received free or reduced lunch.
Scotland County DSS processed nearly 5,000 applications for food assistance last year, according to Director, April Snead.
According to data on the NC Child website, 72.6% of Scotland County children lived in poor or low-income homes between 2010 and 2015. In 2014, 39 percent faced food insecurity.
Senate Republicans released a statement this week defending their decision by saying the new rules would level the playing field making eligibility requirements.
The GOP statement pointed out that under current requirements, people can qualify for food stamps if they receive other government assistance benefits, such as disability payments, even if their income is higher than the maximum income for food stamp assistance. This “broad-based categorical eligibility,” as it is described, is used by 38 other states.
For a household of three people, the current maximum annual income to qualify for food assistance is $26,000. However, if that same household receives other types of government assistance, it could earn as much as $39,000 annually and still receive food stamps.
The majority of families who would lose food stamps are between 130 percent and 150 percent of the federal poverty line.
Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statement criticizing the provision.
“Senate Republicans quietly slipped a provision in their budget to cut 100 percent federally funded food stamps for 133,000 North Carolinians,” Cooper said. “This food makes a real difference for families who need it and doesn’t cost North Carolina any state tax money. Lining the pockets of millionaires while going out of the way to make it harder for children to eat is just wrong.”
Pierce hopes the attempt will not make it through the House.
“I don’t think we will go along with that,” Pierce said. “Once you reason with it, it’s not going to cost the state anything, why would you do that? I don’t know why people would take food away from those who really need it. Why take it from families?”
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169
with reporting from Mike Gellatly