The Trump administration has issued a new rule regarding work requirements for food stamp recipients that could potentially affect hundreds of thousands of people. Under the new rule, states would be limited from exempting work-eligible adults from having to maintain steady employment to receive benefits. According to the Agriculture Department, about 688,000 people would lose access to food stamps while the program would save roughly $5.5 billion over five years.
The Supplemental Nutrition Program, known as SNAP, currently has more than 36 million people enrolled. The USDA said that it found 2.9 million adults on the SNAP rolls were able-bodied and did not have dependents, and it said 2.1 million were not working. Under current rules, work-eligible, able-bodied adults between 18 and 49 and without dependents can receive only three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period if they don’t meet the 20-hour work requirement, unless the state decides to waive the time limit. Under the new rule, states can only issue waivers if a city or county has an unemployment rate of 6 percent or higher and the governor has to support the request.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement, “We’re taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program. Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. That’s the commitment behind SNAP, but, like other welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life.”
Scaling back public benefits for low-income Americans has long been a Trump administration priority. In April 2018, the president issued an executive order, called “Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility,” that aimed to create more work programs and limit public assistance. Efforts to include stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients in last year’s farm bill ultimately failed. The House rejected it in a bipartisan vote of 330-83, and the Senate voted down a similar amendment 68-30.
This is the first of three rule changes for the SNAP program proposed by the Trump administration. USDA also has proposed eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility for food stamps and changing how utility costs are factored into benefit calculations. While the first rule will be published in the federal register this week and go into effect in April, Brandon Lipps, deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, did not say when the department will finalize the other two proposed rules.