Guest Column

Heat or Food: Don’t Make Montanans Choose

We are deeply concerned by a new policy proposed by the Trump administration that would cut Montana’s SNAP program

As Montanans prepare to settle into the long, cold winter ahead, we pause for a moment to be thankful for warm homes and food on the table. We also pause to remember that more than 100,000 Montanans, including 37,000 children, live in homes that struggle to keep food on the table and that winter is often a particularly challenging time for these families. While Montana has a robust network of hardworking food pantries and other emergency food providers, we also need strong anti-hunger programs such as SNAP to make sure that no one in our state goes hungry.

This is why we are deeply concerned by a new policy proposed by the Trump administration that would cut Montana’s SNAP program by $13 million each year. The proposed rule would take basic food assistance away from struggling families – over 40 percent of SNAP households in Montana would lose an average of $50 per month in food benefits. This cut is staggering given that SNAP benefits are already very modest, averaging less than $1.30 per person, per meal in Montana.

Through the proposed rule, the Trump administration hopes to “standardize” across states the methodology used to account for utility expenses, which help determine a family’s SNAP eligibility. Perhaps not understanding the length or severity of Montana’s winters, the new standard utility expense for our state would be substantially lower. As a result, an estimated 22,000 Montana households will lose a portion of their monthly food benefits, forcing these families to choose between adequate heat or food on the table.

Most troubling, this cut will disproportionately harm children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Of the 7 million people who will see their benefits cut, 68% are in households with children, 20% are in households with seniors, and 29% are in households that contain an individual with a disability. If this proposed rule goes into effect, there will be even more families forced to choose between paying for school supplies or after-school snacks, and more seniors and people with disabilities debating between paying the heating bill or eating dinner.

For over 50 years, SNAP has been one of the most effective and efficient ways to reduce hunger in America. SNAP also reduces childhood poverty by helping struggling families make ends meet. This proposed rule would undermine the program’s success, cutting $4.5 billion from SNAP over the next five years. This cut will make it more difficult for households to rise out of poverty, while also harming local economies, as low-income households have less money to spend on food.   

With the holiday season just around the corner, it is time not only to celebrate, but also to remember our neighbors in need. SNAP is quietly providing dignity and opportunity for millions of Americans when they need it most. Cutting this vital program will worsen hunger across our state, resulting in long-term consequences to the health and well-being of our communities. Please join us in urging the administration to take SNAP benefits off the chopping block and to withdraw this harmful rule.  Visit www.mfbn.org to submit a public comment before Dec. 2.

Lorianne Burhop is chief policy officer of the Montana Food Bank Network.