Hawai‘i attorney general Clare Connors joined a coalition of 24 state attorneys general last week in opposition of a proposed rule change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called “food stamps”), which would remove approximately 3 million individuals nationwide from the program and disqualify hundreds of thousands of school children from free school meals. The rule change, proposed by the Trump Administration’s US Department of Agriculture, would prohibit states from setting rules regarding SNAP eligibility. In states like Hawai‘i, with a high cost of living, this rule allows residents to receive financial assistance for food even if they earn more than federal poverty guidelines.
That amounts to 14,000 Hawai‘i residents losing food assistance, stated the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. When asked about Maui County-specific impacts, Hawai‘i Appleseed spokesperson Will Caron said “There are 19,629 SNAP recipients in Maui County. Applying the 9 percent affected by the rule change to that gives us 1,767 Maui County residents projected to lose SNAP benefits.”
What’s more, SNAP eligibility automatically enrolls students in other benefits, like free school meals. Fifty-two schools across the state receive universal free meals as a result of high SNAP enrollment, Hawai‘i Appleseed added, meaning fewer SNAP-qualified students could end school-wide benefits to these campuses
“The proposed rule would take food assistance away from the poorest households in Hawai‘i and would put pressure on all hunger-relief organizations, including Hawai‘i Foodbank,” said president and CEO of Hawai‘i Foodbank, Ron Mizutani. “SNAP plays such a critical role in addressing hunger in our communities including schools, and it is unlikely we could keep pace with the increase in needs.”
For AG Connors, though, this is more than cruel – it’s illegal. “The proposed rule is being implemented in violation of federal law,” she said. “It takes away the ability of states to determine who in their communities need basic food assistance.” In the letter, the attorneys general also argue that the proposed rule violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act regarding federal agency rule-change implementation, fails to provide a legitimate justification for changing longstanding USDA policy, conflicts with the clear intent of Congress, and exceeds USDA’s authority.
Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue defended the rule change in July, saying “This proposal will save money and preserve the integrity of the program… SNAP should be a temporary safety net.” For those cold-hearted enough to believe that, consider these numbers: According to Hawai‘i Appleseed, the rule change means the loss of an estimated $3.4 million per year that’s spent at Hawai‘i grocery stores and other food retailers across the state. For Maui County, that’s an annual loss of about $417,000 per year, Caron said.