Hawaii low-income earners could lose aid under rule changes

HONOLULU — Low-income earners in Hawaii could lose government assistance under proposed rule changes to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, officials said.

Changes would prevent Hawaii from waiving federal income and asset requirements to qualify for SNAP, also known as food stamps, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.

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The potential loss is connected to Hawaii’s high cost of living, said Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst with advocacy group Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

Hawaii residents qualify for the program if their income reaches up to 200% of the poverty level if they demonstrate high living costs.

“Here in Hawaii, it’s pretty easy for a working family, especially one with kids, to show that they have high costs,” Woo said. “Housing is part of the cost that counts toward that income flexibility and we have very high housing costs here.”

There are currently no asset limits in Hawaii. But a proposed rule change could disqualify seniors or applicants with disabilities with assets above the federal limit of $2,250 or $3,500, officials said.

“We want to encourage savings and we want people to have a cushion if they have a car repair bill or a medical bill,” Woo said. “It’s going to affect folks like seniors who might have some savings because it will kick them off (SNAP).”

About 4,600 children could lose free school lunch if their families no longer qualify for SNAP, Hawaii Appleseed estimated.

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“Anything that drops our SNAP numbers has other effects. It starts to affect our free school lunch numbers and it makes it harder for students and for schools to provide free meals,” Woo said.

Another SNAP rule change that removed work requirement waivers for able-bodied adults without a disability has already been finalized and will go into effect April 1.

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