State officials: New SNAP rule could harm Pennsylvanians

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

State officials are concerned that 775,000 Pennsylvanians would lose a portion of their federal benefits if the government changes the way it calculates utility costs in low-income households.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Trump administration's proposal to change how SNAP recipients' utility allowances are calculated doesn't take into account the cost of deliverable fuels such as coal, heating oil and wood, said Teresa Miller, secretary of the state Department of Human Services.

"Northeast states are the ones that are most likely to be impacted," Miller said Tuesday.

More:Pennsylvania and 16 other states oppose changing SNAP benefit rules

Some SNAP recipients qualify for a Standard Utility Allowance, which means recipients can deduct a portion of their regular income for heating, cooling and other utility expenses.

That portion is not included in the income amount used to determine how much money the household will receive in SNAP benefits.

Teresa Miller accompanied by Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Wolf says he'll nominate his insurance commissioner, Miller, to lead a new agency overseeing public health and human services programs. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

About 21,000 households in York County receive the Pennsylvania utility allowance, according to the DHS.

States have wide latitude in how they determine utility allowances, which the USDA argues has resulted in uneven benefit distribution. Some state allowances are too high while others are too low and don't provide enough assistance, officials wrote in the proposal.

Some SNAP recipients would see their benefits decrease, while others would see an increase.

But Miller said the proposal would be harmful overall.

"Changing the allowance categorically hurts more people than it helps," she said.

Other proposed changes to the SNAP program this year have included eliminating Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility and tightening work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents who live in areas with unemployment rates below 6%.

President Donald Trump formalized the new work requirements Wednesday, Dec. 4.

The USDA proposed a standardized heating and cooling utility allowance equal to 80% of low-income households' utility costs.

The base year costs for each state would be determined using data from the American Community Survey and the Residential Energy Consumption Survey, with a three-year average of the Consumer Price Index for fuels and utilities to adjust for inflation.

The state DHS did give its stamp of approval to one part of the USDA's proposal: Changing the telephone allowance to a general telecommunications allowance, which would cover the cost of home internet access.

More:York man guilty, defrauded feds of about $30K in Medicaid benefits