Secretary of Education Dan French in Barre, 6-20-2019

Secretary of Education Dan French during a June 2019 press conference in Barre, Vt.

As the period for comments on a proposed rule change to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) comes to an end, the Vermont Secretary of Education joined other state officials in decrying the rule change, releasing a statement on the matter Friday.

“If enacted, this rule change will harm many of our most vulnerable students and families, and greatly increase costs for many of our school districts and Vermont taxpayers as a whole,” Secretary of Education Dan French wrote Friday.

Friday was the last day for the public to comment on a proposed rule change steered by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) that, if enacted, would limit a state’s ability to waive certain asset and income limits in the administration of federal SNAP benefits.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has argued the revisions to SNAP benefits would save the federal government $2.5 billion and encourage self-reliance among Americans.

Critics – including Gov. Phil Scott, the heads of several Vermont agencies and Vermont’s congressional delegation – have countered that the rule change would unfairly punish families in need and especially impact Vermont children who rely on SNAP benefits for accessing food.

Previous testimony from French and from Mary Rose Krueger, the head of the Agency of Education’s Child Nutrition Programs, suggested 4,619 children in Vermont would be directly impacted by the proposed rule change.

Effects of the rule change would also spill into the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), otherwise known as the universal free meals program, as participation in the program is based off of the percentage of a school’s population qualifying for free meals.

According to the Agency of Education, the majority of participants within the free school meals program are certified through household participation in SNAP.

“Hardest hit will be school districts that have one or more schools participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program, which allows all students in certain low income communities to access free school meals,” French wrote Friday.

According to French, 56 schools in Vermont participate in the CEP program, otherwise known as the universal free lunch program.

Numbers provided by French and the Agency of Education suggest the USDA’s proposed rule change would result in almost half of those schools no longer qualifying for the CEP over the next four years.

A USDA analysis of the rule change concluded that as many as one million children nationwide would no longer have direct eligibility for free and reduced lunches through SNAP participation.

This was the second comment period for the proposed rule change, with the first closing last September.

In all, USDA has received more than 165,000 comments nationally on the proposed rule change between the two comment periods.