Local aid programs worry about new SNAP regulations

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — New rules for those who receive federal food assistance are expected to impact thousands of people in West Michigan.

The Trump administration hails the changes as a move to make people less reliant on government assistance and move them into the workforce. But advocates for the poor say they will make the lives of those who are struggling unnecessarily harder.

The changes set to go into effect in January, which did not require congressional approval, would limit access to benefits like food stamps and other food assistance programs by restricting eligibility and eliminating waivers for areas with high unemployment. The federal government is estimating $5 billion in savings over five years.

But advocates for those who rely on the programs say the monetary savings will come with a human cost. 

“(The changes) will have a negative impact on the elderly, the disabled, students — people who are doing the best they can to make ends meet,” said Shay Krick, a programs administrator for Feeding America, which administers pantries for 40 counties in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

The state estimates that tightening Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligibility requirements could cut access for 85,000 adults and 58,000 children.

“These modest benefits through the SNAP can help children go further in school and in life and can help adults stay healthy and seek jobs so we strongly oppose the proposals from the Trump administration,” Bob Wheaton of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said. “It’s going to be far beyond able-bodied adults without children that impacted.” 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, called the changes cruel. 

The Heart of West Michigan United Way says 40% of Kent County households struggle to meet basic needs. 

“We have 34% of black and African American households that are receiving food assistance, over 17% of Hispanic and Latino households are receiving food assistance and only 11% or 12% of white households,” Wende Randall, director of the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force at the United Way.

The county has 60,000 people receiving food assistance. Half are children and 9,000 are adults, according to MDHHS. The average individual SNAP payment is about $65 per week. 

“Some of my other counties are going to highly impacted with a lot less services. The more rural the county, the more difficult support services are and it’s going to affect them at a very high degree,” Krick said. 

“Poverty is a stressful situation to be in. I think one of the big things that is being glossed over with these potential rule changes is the added stress that’s going to be brought upon a lot of these people because of this,” added Erik Keener with United Church Outreach Ministry, which serves 90,000 people in Kent County.

Last week, U.S. Sen Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., addressed the changes, saying, “Seasonal holiday workers, workers in Northern Michigan’s tourism industry, and workers with unreliable hours like waiters and waitresses are the kinds of workers hurt by this proposal.”  

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