WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed tightening automatic eligibility requirements for the food stamp program, a change that could cut benefits for 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.
The proposed rule is the latest in the Trump administration’s efforts to cut back on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP, the official name of the food stamp program. It also has proposed to tighten work requirements for those who receive federal food assistance.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called the proposal ‘‘yet another attempt by this administration to circumvent Congress’’ and that the effect would be to ‘‘take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals, and make it harder for states to administer food assistance.’’
About 36 million people participated in SNAP in April 2019, down from more than 38 million a year earlier.
Under current law, states may automatically make people eligible for food stamps, 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 so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.’’
The rule is open for public comment for 60 days.