The Trump administration has acknowledged that its proposed changes to the food stamp program could leave nearly 500,000 children without access to free school lunches.
The US Department of Agriculture released an analysis late Tuesday afternoon that showed the agency's proposed rule would mean nearly 1 million children would no longer be directly certified for free school meals based on their participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the formal name for food stamps.
About half of those children would continue to be eligible to receive free meals because they come from families with annual household incomes of no more than 130% of the federal poverty level, or $33,475 for a four-person family in 2019.
However, another 497,000 kids would only be eligible for reduced-price meals since they come from households with annual income of between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level, or no more than roughly $47,650. These students would have to pay a maximum of 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch.
Another 40,000 students from families with higher incomes would have to pay for their meals.
The proposed rule, unveiled in July, curtails so-called broad-based categorical eligibility, which makes it easier for Americans with somewhat higher incomes and more savings to receive food stamps. It could strip more than 3 million people of their benefits.
Republicans have long argued that this expanded eligibility option is a "loophole" that permits those with higher incomes and assets to get public assistance.
Consumer advocates, however, say that the option helps low-income working Americans get the help they need.
Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, first raised concerns in July that half a million kids could be affected by the proposed rule. He called on the agency to revise its proposal to include the estimate.
"The internal analysis released by the Department of Agriculture shows that the impact of its proposed rule would be even worse than we had feared," Scott said Wednesday ahead of a hearing on the issue. "Even for those who remain eligible, forcing low-income families to navigate the burdensome paperwork will inevitably lead to eligible children losing access to a critical source of daily nutrition."