The Trump administration’s proposal to cut about 3.1 million people from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, literally and figuratively is a punch in the gut to Southern Illinois.

The proposed rule change by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would increase restrictions on who could automatically qualify for the food benefits. Currently, states allow some people who get benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to automatically qualify. The USDA says the new rule would close "a loophole," according to reporting by the Associated Press.

With the federal deficit expected to top $900 billion in 2019, the projected $2 billion in savings realized by paring down the SNAP program looks both callous and insignificant, particularly in light of the tax cuts pushed by the Trump administration in 2017.

The Committee For a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that $230 billion of the projected $900 billion 2019 deficit was the result of the tax cut. Think about that … $230 billion in tax cuts would cover the SNAP savings 115 times.

That calls to mind the words of former vice president Hubert H. Humphrey, who said, “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

And, Humphrey’s words cut to the heart of the matter. The people hurt by cutting back SNAP benefits are the elderly, the sick, the handicapped and the children. While President Trump has argued that SNAP is no longer necessary given the strong economy and low unemployment, we here in Southern Illinois know the reality.

The soaring stock market and tightening job market mean nothing if you are a single parent working a couple of part-time jobs trying to make ends meet. The improved economy is irrelevant to a person who is unable to work because of physical or mental impairment.

In a story published in this newspaper last Sunday, we learned that 12,000 people in Jackson County alone receive SNAP benefits. We know that 40 percent of Alexander County residents and 30 percent of Pulaski County residents are food stamp recipients. Between 20 to 25 percent of Jackson, Williamson, Union, Gallatin, Saline, Franklin and Hardin counties receive SNAP benefits.

Those are your friends and neighbors. Look around you in church next Sunday. You’ll see people who rely on this program to feed their children. Look at the kids your children play with at school. They are the ones who will suffer if this proposal is allowed to take effect.

Recently, the Wyoming Valley School District in Pennsylvania has been in the news after it sent letters to parents informing them that if their kids' lunch debt was not settled, their child could be removed from their home and placed in foster care.

At least that’s not apt to happen in Southern Illinois. So many people here rely on SNAP benefits that many schools in the lower 17 counties provide free lunches to all students.

Churches in the region provide weekend food packages for students who rely on school lunches as their primary source of nutrition. In the long run, it will be the children that will feel the stinging effects of this proposal.

As Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking member on the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Nutrition told the Reuters News Agency, “This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals and make it harder for states to administer food assistance.”

And, as our story this past Sunday outlined, SNAP benefits are not solely for the unemployed. In addition, inner-city residents are not the primary beneficiaries of the program. Studies indicate that rural citizens rely more heavily on SNAP benefits than city-dwellers.

Curtailing SNAP benefits is a horrific idea for Southern Illinois, for children and the rural poor. The savings to taxpayers is minimal and the cost, in terms of human hardship and suffering, is high.

It is an idea that needs to go away — quickly.

The new rule is on the Federal Register and is open for public comment for 60 days. To submit a comment, visit regulations.gov/document?D=FNS-2018-0037-0001. You can also write to Program Design Branch, Program Development Division, Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, 3101 Park Center Drive, Alexandria, VA 22302; or email SNAPPDBRules@usda.gov. Refer to Docket ID No. FNS-2018-0037, "Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance" in the subject line.

The Southern Illinoisan, Carbondale, Tuesday