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Proposed rule could affect food stamp eligibility for 3 million

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed tightening automatic eligibility requirements for the food stamp program, a change that could affect about 3.1 million people.

The Agriculture Department said the rule would close “a loophole” that enables people receiving only minimal benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to be eligible automatically for food stamps.

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

Under current law, states may confer eligibility for food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, if they meet income and other requirements for TANF. USDA says 43 states have expanded that to include households that the agency says “barely participate” in TANF.

USDA said this has resulted in people receiving food stamps who don’t need it and wouldn’t qualify under regular program rules. It estimates that in 2020, 3.1 million food stamp recipients, or 8% of the total could be affected.

Under the proposal, to qualify for automatic eligibility, people would have to get at least $50 a month in benefits from TANF for a minimum of six months.

Perdue said the change is necessary for “preventing abuse of a critical safety net system.”

The rule is open for public comment for 60 days.

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