This week, the Medicare Rights Center provided comment to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in response to a proposed rule that would dramatically affect access to benefits by cutting billions of dollars of funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also referred to as food stamps.
Changes to SNAP benefits directly impact the individuals Medicare Rights serves. Many older adults and people with disabilities who are Medicare enrollees are also SNAP recipients, and this access to affordable, nutritious food is essential to helping them build and maintain their health and well-being. Cuts to SNAP, therefore, would exacerbate existing health and financial challenges for people with Medicare and put more people at risk of serious harm.
Our comments to this proposed rule, like many of our comments, focus on the stories and experiences we hear on our national helpline. Calls from individuals who are struggling to make ends meet and are choosing between paying their health care, housing, heating, and food bills reflect the need for improvements to, not cuts from, benefits and programs that provide a safety net. Over 5 million older adults were food insecure in 2017 and disability is a risk factor for food insecurity even in moderate income households.
Cuts to SNAP undermine Medicare’s efficacy – the links between SNAP and improved nutrition and between improved nutrition and health are well established. The specific proposed cuts–which would disallow states from making state-specific adjustments to SNAP budgets in response to state-specific utility costs–would predominately impact northern states with higher heating costs, including some of the states with the highest percentages of older adults, including Pennsylvania, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Rhode Island, Maine, and Connecticut.
This proposal is particularly alarming when considered alongside the Trump administration’s other efforts to cut SNAP. Just yesterday the administration finalized a rule that would weaken the program by imposing work requirements on SNAP recipients, a move that is without merit and expected to cause hundreds of thousands of people to lose access to the program. Meanwhile, another proposed rule would change how the federal poverty level is determined and potentially cut eligibility for SNAP, as well as other programs on which older adults and people with disabilities rely, including Medicare’s low income assistance programs and Medicaid.
Accordingly, we urge FNS to withdraw this proposed rule in its entirety. Rather than seeking to cut benefits, the administration must do more to ensure that all Americans have access to the services and supports they need to live with health, dignity, and choice.