Ending SNAP BBCE, Continuing a Ruthless American Tradition of Sabotaging Communities of Color

By Parker Gilkesson & Darrel Thompson

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the first line of defense for communities of color experiencing hunger and food insecurity. In 2015, SNAP lifted out of poverty approximately 2.1 million Black people (including 1 million children) and an estimated 2.5 million Latino people (including 1.2 million children). Nearly 3 percent of SNAP recipients are Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), though many more are likely eligible but don’t enroll because of cultural stigma, insufficient program outreach to AAPI groups. The Trump Administration has recently proposed a rule that would strip SNAP benefits from 3.1 million individuals, take away automatic eligibility for free school meals from children in these families, and punish people with meager savings. Consequently, the rule would further exacerbate the country’s racial wealth gap and seriously harm people of color—continuing a ruthless and shameful American tradition of hamstringing people of color in their efforts to achieve economic mobility. 

The proposed rule would greatly restrict a long-standing policy known as “broad based categorical eligibility” (BBCE) which allows states to consider the high cost of living when determining eligibility for SNAP. This provision ensures working families with high living expenses, such as child care and housing, lose SNAP benefits gradually, rather than face a sharp “benefit cliff.” However, the provision is not an automatic pathway to SNAP receipt; eligible households under BBCE still must verify income, go through interviews, and comply with mandatory policies like time limits for childless adults. With BBCE, states are also able to lift or eliminate the asset limit. Under current SNAP regulations, households can have assets (e.g., savings, vehicles, burial plots) up to a limit of $2,250 ($3,500 for households with seniors or people with disabilities). Flexibility on asset limits allow families, seniors, and people with a disability to have modest savings without losing SNAP. The proposed rule would eliminate that flexibility and harm communities of color, particularly because of its effect on asset limits.

The proposal eliminating BBCE builds on generational harm that government policies have inflicted on people of color, who have been historically denied the opportunity to build wealth. After Reconstruction, policies such as the Homestead Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and even the Social Security Act were often designed to exclude people of color from the financial opportunity and assistance enjoyed by White people. Moreover, Black people were historically prevented from building wealth during slavery and unrelentingly sabotaged economically by White terror, Jim Crow laws, and  predatory home lending. That deprivation of opportunity and harm conceived the racial wealth gap that exists in America today. 

Today, the median wealth of Black households is $17,600, compared to $171,000 for White people, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. White households with incomes near the poverty line typically still have about $18,000 in wealth—due primarily to the cumulative effect of intergenerational wealth transfers—while Black households in similar economic conditions typically have a median wealth close to zero. Building assets is a key component of exiting poverty. Therefore, the ability of families of color to save money without losing SNAP benefits, along with the implementation of bold, targeted policies, is imperative to close the racial wealth gap. 

The Trump Administration’s efforts to take away SNAP from millions of people follows a ruthless American tradition. And it is consistent with this country’s unyielding efforts to sabotage people of color’s full attainment of what everyone wants for themselves and their families: to know you can weather financial emergencies without ruin; to invest in your future and that of your children; to not worry whether you can put food on the table. SNAP is but a modest support that gives people in most need the assistance that allows them to fulfill one of their most basic human rights: access to food. 

We must fight back against the Trump Administration’s attempt to take food away from people with low incomes and their families. Submit a comment to the federal register by Monday, September 23 at 11:59 PM ET. (Feel free to use our template comment.) Your voice matters. Your voice has power. And your voice is needed in this fight to stand up for basic human rights and the inherent dignity and worth of every person.