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Why proposed changes to food stamps program could make "the poor more poor"

Impact of proposed changes to food stamps
Impact of proposed changes to food stamps 04:22

For more than 34 million Americans, food stamps help them survive. Now there's concern proposed changes in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program could drastically cut those benefits, as the Trump administration said it wants to reduce waste.

But a couple CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz spoke to worries the changes could hurt families like theirs trying to get by. After Patience Kollie and John Spinola's rent nearly doubled, they had to move into their car with their two kids, a toddler and a teenager. They said the stress and anxiety caused Kollie to go on medical leave, leaving the family on one income. 

"It's like a snowball effect. Then the brakes go. Then your alternator goes. Then you're trying to catch a break," Spinola said.

They said they survived thanks in part to food stamps, under the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

The average recipient receives about $127 a month. That's $1.40 a meal, three meals a day.

But an estimated 3.7 million Americans could lose their benefits next year if the government implements three proposed changes:

  • Removing automatic enrollment for families who qualify for other government benefits
  • Reducing how much people can deduct for utilities like heat
  • Requiring more able-bodied adults to work at least 20 hours a week to receive benefits

The last proposal has already been finalized and will be implemented in April.

Allison O'Toole runs Second Harvest Heartland, the second largest food bank in the U.S. in Minneapolis and a member of Feeding America.

"We have seen more visits than ever before," O'Toole said, adding that tells her "the economy hasn't recovered in every place."

"We provide 89 million meals in the Heartland. We're very proud of that but we'd love to go out of business," O'Toole said.

Through another government program, Kollie and Spinola found a house they can afford. They plan to move this week and will not qualify for SNAP once Kollie starts working, but they hope the program continues.
"Part of the reason why the government is making these changes to SNAP is because they say the economy is doing great, unemployment is so low that a lot of people should be able to work who aren't working," Diaz said.

"Where is the unemployment so low now that everyone is working?" Spinola asked. "Doing anything to the SNAP, you're going to make the poor more poor."

Similar changes were proposed in Congress in last year's farm bill, but they never made the final law. Now the USDA is making these regulation changes on its own. There might be a multi-state lawsuit in the works by state attorneys general, with reportedly at least 24 states that could sue.

The USDA declined our interview request, but told us Tuesday the proposal still makes resources available for those in need.

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