For much of President Donald Trump’s time in the White House, his administration has sought to change the qualifying criteria for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps families buy food. Tuesday (July 23), it took another step toward that goal, with the announcement of new rules that could result in 3.1 million people with lower incomes not being connected to this benefit.

The new rules were published in the Federal Register on Tuesday. They aim to end automatic eligibility for those who are already receiving federal and state assistance. They also seek to close what the federal government calls a “loophole” that allows states to raise or eliminate income and asset limits so that lower-income earning families with significant housing and child care costs qualify.

“This proposal will not only save money, but more importantly it preserves the integrity of the program while ensuring nutrition assistance programs serve those most in need,” United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reportedly said when announcing the proposed rule. He also called SNAP a “temporary safety net” and emphasized the federal government’s goal to get people to “move away from SNAP dependency.”

The USDA estimates an annual savings of $2.5 billion if the new rule is instituted, reports The Washington Post.

A number of groups—from Democrat politicians to anti-poverty advocates—disagree with the implication that this is a beneficial update to the existing rules. Reports NPR:

But proponents of the current system say it helps low-income families who work but have huge child care, housing and other expenses that leave them with insufficient money to buy food. States now have the flexibility to not cut off benefits as soon as a family’s gross income exceeds a certain level, but to more slowly phase out the food aid. The current program also automatically qualifies 265,000 schoolchildren for free lunches. Under the administration’s proposal, those children would have to apply separately to continue to get those meals.

About 36 million people now receive monthly SNAP benefits. A 2018 USDA report found that 1 out of 4 African American households were “food insecure” in 2016 (the national average is 1 in 8), meaning Black Americans are at the highest risk of not having access to nutritious food because of limited resources.  

To qualify for SNAP, a household’s gross income must be below 130 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $25,750 a year for a family of four. In 2019, the benefit amounts to $1.40 per person per meal, reports The Washington Post, adding, “Currently, households remain eligible with up to $2,250 in countable assets (such as cash or money in a bank account) or $3,500 in countable assets if at least one member of the household is age 60 or older, or is disabled.” These amounts are updated annually.

The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal.