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Senate Farm Bill Would Hurt Some San Diego Seniors

The U.S. Senate proposal would eliminate a program that lets seniors collect food stamps despite their retirement savings.

The U.S. Senate approved a farm bill Monday that would cut $4.1 billion from food stamps over the next 10 years, according to the Associated Press.

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The bill governs subsidies and insurance for farmers, conservation of farmlands and food aid for the poor called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as CalFresh and food stamps.

San Diego Hunger Coalition Executive Director Jennifer Tracy said the latest version of the bill could have a major impact on seniors.

A portion of the savings would come from eliminating categorical eligibility. It's a provision that lets some food stamp recipients skip a portion of the eligibility screening if they're already receiving other safety net aid. For some seniors, it's what makes them eligible for food stamps despite having retirement savings accounts. Eligibility is instead calculated on net income alone.

"This is particularly difficult for seniors," Tracy said. "They can't work anymore, so they're living off of their savings. But those are dwindling so they want to have some SNAP benefits to help them maintain as they age."

Tracy said some seniors could lose their eligibility if the changes go through. Currently, 13,640 of the 262,022 people collecting food stamps in the county are seniors, according to the county.

The changes could also impact school children. Tracy said removing categorical eligibility could mean some students would have to reapply for free school lunches if their school is economically diverse and does not offer free and reduced meals across the board.

The farm bill now moves to the House, where it's likely to stall. Representatives there want to cut an additional $16 billion from SNAP. That gap is what kept Congress from agreeing on a farm bill last year. The current legislation was approved in 2008 and extended through September.

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