Local school leaders are speaking out about their concerns with proposed changes to supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP benefits commonly known as food stamps.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to make changes to eligibility requirements for SNAP. The leader said tighter food stamp requirements would hurt school lunch programs.
Under current law, SNAP follows specific income requirements to determine eligibility. It also allows states to include anyone in the program if they receive other types of federal help, such as temporary assistance for needy families, which the USDA said may not do thorough eligibility determinations. The USDA said it wants to close that loophole. It said the move will save billions of dollars and will ensure people who get food stamps truly need it.
The superintendent of Northeast ISD sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture addressing concerns with these proposed changes to SNAP benefits. At NEISD, about 28,000 students access free or reduced meal benefits and about 14,000 of them are due to SNAP.
"Our concerns with decreasing the number of families on SNAP is that it's going to reduce the number of students who have access to the free or reduced meals," Sharon Glosson, Executive Director of School Nutrition at NEISD, said.
Glosson said changes to SNAP could jeopardize the community eligibility provision program or CEP. This is an option for schools and schools districts in low income areas that allows all students to eat meals for free. There's 30 schools using this program at NEISD.
"They are qualified for that benefit because the majority of students are enrolled in programs such as SNAP and Medicaid. And so any reductions to SNAP could jeopardize the availability of the community eligibility provision program to these 30 campuses," Glosson said.
Families that no longer automatically qualify for free meals through SNAP would have to apply for it and Glosson believes there are several barriers these families face.
"There is a misunderstanding about the paperwork that's required. We have many families who have two working parents who may not see all of the paperwork that comes home from the school district," Glosson said. "We also see many families that are hesitant to fill out paperwork because they don't know what other agencies may see the paperwork that they're filling out, and they fear it may have a negative impact on their student. There's also stigma that families do not want to share their income information with the school district."
Northside ISD is also voicing its concerns. The superintendent also sent a letter saying over 17,000 students there receive SNAP benefits. He said more than half of these students attend schools that use the community eligibility provision. He said taking away free school meals from the remaining in this group would be catastrophic.
As for NEISD, they will continue to fight for their students. Sharon said they are submitting comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but also to the Texas Department of Agriculture.
"We're speaking to anyone that will listen and giving them our feedback, as well as encouraging our colleagues and our community to submit feedback," Glosson said.
USDA officials said they are still reviewing and giving consideration to all comments received on the proposed rule.