Shelves at the Milton Food Shelf

The Milton Food Shelf prepares to feed those in need during the winter in this Independent file photo.

Hunger Free Vermont, a nonprofit organizaiton formed to address statewide food insecurity, is asking for Vermonters to oppose proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) that, according to Hunger Free Vermont, would impact the Green Mountain state the hardest.

According to Hunger Free Vermont, a change proposed by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture would affect how states factor in household utility costs when determining the amount of benefits a household could receive.

According to USDA, the proposed changes would reduce national spending on SNAP benefits by $4.5 billion from 2021 to 2025, and standardize a federal utility allowance that states have traditionally had more flexibility with setting.

Per Hunger Free Vermont, the changes would cost Vermont’s 3SquaresVT, the state program administering federal SNAP benefits, $25 million annually in federal funds.

“If enacted, this proposal would have devastating affects for thousands of Vermonters who rely on 3SquaresVT to put enough food on the table to stay healthy,” a Hunger Free Vermont press release said Wednesday.

“3SquaresVT benefits are already to low to buy enough healthy food,” the release continues. “We should be increasing benefits and easing access, rather than increasing hunger and hardship for older Vermonters, people with disabilities, and working families.”

For a household to qualify for 3SquaresVT, households must first have a gross income below 185 percent of the federal poverty line and meet a second net income test following deductions of allowable monthly expenses like medical bills, childcare and some housing costs.

Someone 60 years or older may also qualify for 3SquaresVT benefits, as may someone with a disability, according to the Dept. for Children and Families (DCF).

According to Hunger Free Vermont, more than 70,000 Vermont residents receive benefits from the 3SquaresVT program.

According to statistics gathered by DCF and shared by Hunger Free Vermont, 68 percent of households receiving 3SquaresVT benefits would see an average cut of $82 to their monthly benefits should the proposed rule change go into effect.

Hunger Free Vermont also estimated that 80 percent of beneficiary households with older residents or someone with a disability could be impacted by the change.

“This devastating and unacceptable cut will force thousands of Vermont families to choose between feeding themselves and covering other expenses, such as heat, rent or medical care,” Hunger Free Vermont wrote in a statement. “3SquaresVT is here so that Vermonters don’t need to make these types of choices in the first place.”

“This shameful proposal will increase hunger and is doubly cruel as we enter the season of cold nights and giving thanks with our family and neighbors,” said Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont, in a statement. “In Vermont, we stand up and protect one another. We are proud to be working closely with our Congressional delegation, as well as state agency and community partners to fight back. To be successful, we need all Vermonters to take action once more.”

The proposed change would be the most recent of several SNAP reforms sought by the administration of President Donald Trump.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has argued in the past that SNAP benefits needed to be reformed in order to guarantee the program only functioned as “assistance through difficult times” and helped move people to “independency.”

Proposed changes to SNAP benefits under the Trump administration have regularly inspired opposition from anti-poverty advocates like Hunger Free Vermont and state officials, who have argued those changes would unfairly punish poor Americans.

According to information published by the Vermont Dept. of Health in 2014, around 12 percent of Chittenden County’s population struggled with food insecurity.

The comment period on the USDA’s proposed rule change is open until Dec. 2.

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