Washington, DC, October 1, 2019 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture is announcing a proposed rule to modernize the way utility costs are factored in when states calculate a household’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
The proposed rule, which will go on public inspection later this week on www.FederalRegister.gov, replaces the patchwork of outdated approaches states currently use when assessing household utilities through the SNAP Standard Utility Allowance (SUA). Some of the allowances still used today, though adjusted for inflation, were developed in the 1970s, and states no longer even know how they were derived.
The proposal would replace these old, inconsistent calculations with a uniform approach based on national surveys of actual household utility costs in each state and decrease the administrative burden of maintaining these calculations at the state level. It would use modern, state-level data to set each heating-and-cooling SUA (HCSUA) at the 80th percentile of low-income households’ utility costs in that state. The rule would also replace the outdated “telephone allowance” with a telecommunications allowance that covers basic internet costs – today, a necessity for school, work, and work training.
“Americans have every right to expect a program like SNAP to operate fairly and consistently across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “Utility costs vary across the country, but the great discrepancies we see in SNAP allowances mean that folks living a few miles apart across state lines may see a big difference in their benefit amounts. We are working to improve integrity and fairness in our assistance programs.”
This reform would improve integrity and modernize benefit calculations by ensuring standard utility allowances better align with what households actually pay for utilities, with data-driven adjustments for each state to reflect real differences in these costs. This helps to ensure that their SNAP benefit amounts reflect their true circumstances, no matter which state they call home.
USDA encourages comment on the proposed rule once it has been published on Regulations.gov. Comments will be accepted for 60 days after the rule is published.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works to reduce food insecurity and promote nutritious diets among the American people. The agency administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that leverage American’s agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat. FNS also co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide science-based nutrition recommendations and serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy.