RALEIGH — Tucked almost 150 pages into the Senate’s budget proposal is a measure that would strip more than 2,000 Robeson County residents from a federal food assistance program, a third of them being children.
The provision changes the state’s eligibility requirements for the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — commonly known as food stamps. The shift would not save the state any money, as it is paid for with federal tax dollars.
“I don’t know why they even bothered with that, this costs nothing to the state. I don’t know what their plan is on that,” Rep. Garland Pierce said Thursday of Senate Republicans who added the measure. “I just think it’s a bargaining chip. Some things the Senate throws out there to see how we respond to them.”
According to Rob Thompson, senior policy and communications advisor for NC Child, the decision would remove 2,144 county residents from the program, including 771 children under the age of 18. Statewide more than 53,000 children and 133,000 individuals would be affected.
Senate Republicans issued a statement Wednesday saying the change would make the system “more fair.”
The statement pointed out that under current requirements, people can qualify for food stamps if they receive other government assistance benefits, such as disability payments, even if their income is higher than the maximum income for food stamp assistance. This “broad-based categorical eligibility,” as it is described, is used by 38 other states.
For a household of three people, the current maximum annual income to qualify for food assistance is $26,000. However, if that same household receives other types of government assistance, it could earn as much as $39,000 annually and still receive food stamps.
The majority of families who would lose food stamps are between 130 percent and 150 percent of the federal poverty line.
Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statement criticizing the provision.
“Senate Republicans quietly slipped a provision in their budget to cut 100 percent federally funded food stamps for 133,000 North Carolinians,” Cooper said. “This food makes a real difference for families who need it and doesn’t cost North Carolina any state tax money. Lining the pockets of millionaires while going out of the way to make it harder for children to eat is just wrong.”
Pierce believes the cut will not fly in the House.
“I don’t think we will go along with that,” Pierce said. “Once you reason with it, it’s not going to cost the state anything, why would you do that. I don’t know why people would take food away from those who really need it. Why take it from families?”
The House will adopt its own budget, and then negotiate with the Senate for a final plan.
A significant portion of the children who would no longer qualify for food stamps also would lose their free or reduced school lunch, since eligibility for that program is tied to the other, according to N.C. Child.
“No child should go hungry in North Carolina, yet hunger remains a serious issue for over one in five children in our state,” Thompson said. “Children need food to grow strong, to stay healthy, and to thrive at school. Losing access to food assistance at home and at school hurts Robeson county kids and jeopardizes their long-term development.”
That would not affect the Public Schools of Robeson County, which provides free lunch to all children through a federal program.
According to Velvet Nixon, director of the Robeson County Department of Social Services, during March about 38,500 people in Robeson County received food stamps at a cost of about $4.5 million a month.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly