“I think this proposal has really struck a chord with people, and the outcry against it has been swift and loud,” Ms. Davis said.
Although most of the comments opposed the rule change, some spoke up for it. “As a taxpayer, I would like to see stronger eligibility requirements,” Heidi Geschwill wrote in a public comment, identifying herself as a citizen. “It is outrageous to read that a millionaire is somehow eligible!”
But social service professionals expressed clear concern about a ripple effect as families are pushed off the food-stamp rolls. Children who live in households that receive food assistance are automatically eligible for free school meals. If the proposed rule is finalized, many children would lose meals at home and at school.
And that could impact other school services. School nutrition directors expressed concern that if the number of children who are automatically eligible for free school meals decreased, their schools would, on paper, appear richer because the number of students deemed to be poor in the school would decrease. That would jeopardize school access to other social welfare programs, not only free school meals but also educational resources that are tied to the number of children receiving those meals.
“It upsets me to no end, especially when you’re talking about my kids,” said Robert Lewis, director of nutrition services at the El Monte School District, in California, which serves 9,000 students. “I hate to even imagine even a portion of those kids not being able to have food.”
The Urban Institute, using data from another Washington research firm, Mathematica, estimated that the rule change would purge 3.6 million people from the food stamps program. About one million people in households with children would have incomes considered too high for eligibility. Another one million would have too many assets.
Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a statement submitted to the Agriculture Department that the proposed rule “would cause serious harm to millions of low-income families who would have an even harder time making ends meet and putting food on the table.”