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8,000 poor seniors in Illinois could lose food stamps under 'cruel and rigid' USDA plan
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8,000 poor seniors in Illinois could lose food stamps under 'cruel and rigid' USDA plan

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Roughly 8,000 vulnerable seniors in Illinois face a "catastrophic outcome" if the federal government goes through with a plan to end food stamps for them, a group of lawmakers warned Wednesday.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, supports residents of more than 150 low-income assisted living communities that are home to people who can't pay for them privately.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP, plans to end benefits for the communities and their residents on Dec. 31, according to a letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue from Democratic and Republican lawmakers opposing the "cruel and rigid plan."

Nominated by President Donald Trump in 2017, Perdue led an effort last year to end SNAP benefits for people the administration believed didn't need them. He said the goal was to shift "more able-bodied Americans to self-sufficiency," The Washington Post reported. A federal judge recently struck that attempt down.

The new "looming action," first brought to lawmakers' attention in late October, comes as SNAP enrollment surged by the millions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The assisted living residents who use SNAP in Illinois need the benefits to afford basic nutrition, said Scott Douglas, administrator of Cambridge House in O'Fallon.

"They might have been a bus driver or a farmer's wife or a waitress and maybe they didn't save that kind of money," Douglas said. "We serve these people just like if they were private-pay residents. ... To take a cut to a SNAP program, that would hurt the bottom line, and we want to be a thriving program."

The residents, already eligible for SNAP, relinquish their benefits to the communities where they live. Because Medicaid isn't used to pay for food, the pooled benefits help cover meals. The arrangement has continued without any problems for more than 20 years.

The reason the USDA gave for canceling the benefits comes down to a dispute among agencies about the meaning of the word "institution," according to the letter from Democratic U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, along with Republican U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis of Taylorville and Mike Bost of Murphysboro.

What's not clear is why the USDA wants to end benefits for the residents, who are often unable to safely do their own grocery shopping or cook food.

A USDA spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

"It is unacceptable to leave 8,000 seniors vulnerable especially during the holiday season and in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century," the lawmakers wrote. "We respectfully request that USDA explore every possible grace period, enforcement discretion, or waiver to prevent this catastrophic outcome on January 1, 2021."

A recent USDA report found there was no fraud or misuse of the benefits by the assisted living communities in Illinois, whose residents only represent 0.04% of SNAP enrollment in the country.

Here are some central and Southern Illinois assisted living communities that would be affected:

—Cambridge House, O'Fallon

—Cambridge House of Swansea

—Evergreen Place, Alton

—Foxes Grove 395 East, Wood River

—Heritage Woods of Benton

—Heritage Woods of Mount Vernon

—Knollwood St. Clair Retirement Community, Caseyville

—Magnolia Terrace, Waterloo

—Manor at Craig Farm, Chester

—Manor at Mason Woods, Pinckneyville

—Prairie Living at Chautauqua, Carbondale

—River to River Community of Marion

—River to River Supportive Living of Anna

—St. Clare's Villa, Alton

—Eagle Ridge SLF, Decatur

—Eden Supportive Living, Champaign

—Evergreen Place, Decatur

—Evergreen Place, Litchfield

—Glenwood of Mt. Zion

—Glenwood of Staunton

—Hawthorne Inn of Clinton

—Hickory Estates of Pana

—Jerseyville Estates, Jerseyville

—Legacy Memory Support, Decatur

—Maple Point, Monticello

—Mary Bryant Home for the Blind, Springfield

—Prairie Winds of Urbana

—Springfield Supportive Living Center, Springfield

—Timberlake Senior Living, Springfield

—Village at Morse Farm, Carlinville

A full list of communities is available at https://bit.ly/3kGUdgg.

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