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Trump administration wants to cut food stamps to thousands of seniors, lawmakers say

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More than 8,000 poor senior citizens in Illinois and other states face a "catastrophic" outcome under a Trump administration change that would cut food-stamp benefits on January 1, according to lawmakers. 

Senator Dick Durbin and other Illinois lawmakers are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the benefit, which is for poor seniors who live in one of 154 supportive living facilities across the state, according to a November 18 letter to USDA secretary Sonny Perdue. 

The USDA said the change would reflect the enforcement of the law after the agency looked into the program, according to an agency spokesman. Supportive living facilities had been given "mixed information" about their eligibility from federal agencies about their eligibility for food stamps, a recent USDA report found. But the agency determined they don't qualify, the report concluded. 

The 20-year-old program helps low-income seniors by allowing their facilities to pool food-stamp benefits and purchase food on their behalf, with the lawmakers noting that this helps disabled and elderly residents who otherwise couldn't get to grocery stores. Facilities in states ranging from Alabama to Tennessee would also be affected, although the majority of the supportive living facilities are located in Illinois. 

The decision to curtail the program at year-end would prove problematic on a number of levels, the Illinois lawmakers said in their letter to the USDA. "It is unacceptable to leave 8,000 seniors vulnerable especially during the holiday season and in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century," they wrote. 

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Durbin and the other lawmakers said it "remains unclear why USDA is deciding to decertify 8,000 individuals from SNAP, since they are clearly eligible themselves to qualify for SNAP participation," referring to the the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known better as food stamps.

"Since these facilities are required by Illinois State law to provide residents with three meals per day, the seniors will not go hungry," a USDA spokesman said.

The Trump administration has engaged in a years-long effort to trim SNAP. When that effort began, the U.S. was enjoying historically low unemployment and a strong economy. But the coronavirus pandemic has driven up food insecurity and poverty among U.S. households, raising concerns among lawmakers and anti-hunger advocates about the Trump administration's ongoing plans to cut nutrition assistance.

Trump food-stamp cuts

In October, a judge blocked the Trump administration's efforts to make it more difficult for some adults to receive food stamps, condemning the plan for failing to consider how the rule would impact hundreds of thousands of Americans during the pandemic. 

That effort would have cut off benefits from some 700,000 adults ages 18 to 49 who don't have disabilities or dependents, such as children or adult family members with disabilities.

The USDA's latest change would impact poor individuals who entered the senior living facilities with the understanding that they would receive food aid through this program, a Durbin aide told CBS MoneyWatch. Removing that support "could be very problematic," the aide said. Durbin's office hasn't yet received a response from the USDA about its request to continue the program.

Financial hardship and food insecurity are on the rise since the coronavirus pandemic slammed the economy in March. More than half of U.S. families with children remain concerned about being able to afford food over the next few weeks, according to a recent analysis of Census data from the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Food-stamp enrollment has swelled as millions of households endured job losses. Enrollment in food stamps surged by 17%, or almost 6 million additional recipients, through May, according to the October ruling that struck down Mr. Trump's efforts to cut food stamps for some adults. 

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