White House

‘This Is Hurting Kids:' Vt. AG Urges Comments on Proposed Changes to Nutrition Benefits

The USDA has proposed eligibility changes to who can qualify for nutrition assistance money

Vermont’s attorney general Wednesday urged people across his state to speak out against a proposal by the White House and USDA to change rules around eligibility for nutrition benefits—once known as food stamps, now called 3SquaresVT in Vermont.

“I would hope people share our outrage about this,” said Attorney General T.J. Donovan, a Democrat.

Donovan’s call came ahead of an approaching deadline for the public to weigh in on a Trump administration proposal that the USDA has projected would disqualify more than 3 million Americans from accessing nutrition benefits.

At issue is the more than $60 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, which the administration believes is ripe for fraud. The USDA has said the eligibility changes would, nationally, save about $2.5-billion from the program.

Last month, necn introduced viewers to Tammy Eaborn of Burlington, reporting that her household and more than 5,000 other Vermont households are expected to be unable to access some $7.5-million in benefits under the proposed rule change, if it goes forward.

“That would actually hurt me and my family, who's working to try to get out of the system,” Eaborn said on Aug. 13, adding that she is a single mom of three who has a part time job and is working toward obtaining her bachelor’s degree.

Vermont state officials have said they expect the rule change would also affect numbers for free and reduced-price school lunches.

“This is happening in the name of our [federal] government, and this is hurting kids,” Donovan said Wednesday.

The Trump administration has said reforms are needed to root out potential abuses in the SNAP program, which it referred to as a “critical safety net.” The White House has said the move would ensure fair and efficient government, adding that it believes states should really check on people’s assets better before approving benefits.

However, Hunger Free Vermont rejects that, insisting people receiving the support really need it.

Anore Horton, the executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, said she is “100 percent confident” that the degree of fraud nationally is “miniscule,” adding that in Vermont, DCF staffers already work very hard conducting interviews with applicants and doing checks and double-checks to confirm eligibility.

John Sayles, the CEO of the Vermont Foodbank, observed that the impacts from the proposed rule change could have ripple effects beyond just the benefit recipients, by taking money out of the local food economy.

“It’s going to be a hit first and foremost to those families—increase their stress,” Sayles told reporters Wednesday. “But also to our companies–our grocery stores, our farmers, our farmers’ markets around the state.”

Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden County, is also an ordained minister who heads Vermont Interfaith Action. She said the group will encourage members and supporters to file comments with the federal government on the proposed rule change.

“People of all different faiths believe being generous and kind to people who are in need are part of our faith values,” Sen. Ingram said Wednesday.

The deadline to submit comments on the proposal is Sept. 23.

Hunger Free Vermont has placed a call to its neighbors to comment on the federal proposal, including a link to where they can file their remarks.

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