The Trump administration is proposing rule changes to eliminate flexibility in how states administer food stamps, a move that could throw more than 3 million Americans off the program while also cutting some children off from free school lunches.

The White House says it’s merely enforcing existing federal rules and undoing expansions at the state level that, it claims, are feeding people who don’t belong in the program.

The move essentially overrules the judgment of states about what the poor in their own jurisdictions need.

The changes would actually discourage people from working and saving, penalizing low-income families as soon as they start to improve their circumstances. Leaders in dozens of states have managed to work around this problem by adding more flexibility to the rules, but President Donald Trump’s Agriculture Department seeks a counterproductive, one-size-fits-all edict from Washington.

Whatever happened to the conservative principle of respecting local decision-making in government?

The food stamp program, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides direct access to food for millions of Americans who would otherwise go hungry.

Federal rules set an annual income cap of 130% of poverty for recipients — about $33,000 for a family of four.

But states are allowed to adjust that level modestly upward in specific circumstances to ensure that families with fluctuating incomes aren’t repeatedly pushed out of the program each time their pay rises slightly above the federal limit.

It means that a food-stamp recipient who gets a small raise at work won’t suddenly find herself in a worse situation than before because her food aid is suddenly cut off.

That flexibility, which most state governments in the nation use to some extent, is what the Trump administration wants to take away, making the federal limit a brick wall that can’t be adjusted for a family’s circumstances.

The proposed change would also nix a part of the program that automatically qualifies more than a quarter-million children for free lunches, making them apply separately for that aid.

In addition to embodying the abject cruelty that has become the hallmark of this White House, the move is counterproductive on its face.

If the goal of food stamps is to help poor families through the hardest times until they can get back on their feet, why would the federal government demand a system so unbending that it effectively tells those families not to try to earn more money if they don’t want to be immediately dumped from the program? This literally creates a disincentive for people to improve their earnings.

After ballooning the deficit by some $1.5 trillion to give a tax break to the rich, this administration now says it needs to go after poor families’ meals to save about $2.5 billion a year. It doesn’t — and it shouldn’t.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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