Statement from Richard Besser, MD, on SNAP Categorical Eligibility

    • October 30, 2019

The following statement from President and CEO Richard Besser, MD, of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed rule to end the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility.

The negative consequences of ending SNAP categorical eligibility have been apparent since the day the proposed rule was announced. Since then, we have learned that the ramifications would be even worse than originally anticipated. 

USDA’s original analysis found that the proposal would push about nine percent of SNAP participants—more than three million people—off the program entirely, exacerbating food insecurity rates and adding billions of dollars’ worth of administrative costs on both participants and federal and state agencies. 

We now know that the consequences of this rule would extend beyond the community and into the classroom. USDA’s latest analysis reveals that nearly one million children would no longer be directly certified for free school meals based on SNAP participation—nearly double USDA’s original estimates. Of those one million children, 40,000 would lose eligibility for free or reduced-price meals entirely; 445,000 would have to apply to maintain access for free school meals; and 497,000 would only qualify for reduced-price meals.

New research just released from the Urban Institute sheds new light on how this rule could impact schools that currently qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows schools in high-poverty areas to serve free meals to all students. More than one million students could see their schools lose full reimbursement for serving free school meals, potentially putting their CEP status at risk. This could cost those schools more than $167 million in school lunch funding. Moreover, an additional 142,000 students could see their schools lose eligibility for CEP entirely. Under that circumstance, those schools would no longer be able to provide free school meals to all students—which reduces student meal debt, ends stigma, and extends the benefits of healthy meals to everyone—but only to those directly certified as low-income.  

With school meals now considerably healthier under updated nutrition standards, denying children these meals could further exacerbate rates of food insecurity.

Previous RWJF-funded research has shed more light on the ramifications of this proposal. A Mathematica analysis showed that more than 40 percent of the 1.9 million SNAP households slated to lose benefits live in poverty, while more than one-third have children. Urban Institute research also found that for more than two million participants in SNAP households with children, the resulting benefit loss would be approximately $240 per month per household, or about $165 million annually.

SNAP is one of the most effective programs we have to help low-income Americans. It lifted more than three million people out of poverty in 2018 alone, reduces hunger, and improves life-long health and economic outcomes. This proposal would needlessly make life more difficult for millions of vulnerable children and families. We urge the Department to withdraw this rule that would do so much harm to so many people.


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 45 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working alongside others to build a national Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937


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