Even before new rules proposed by the Trump administration have taken effect, the number of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has been falling, according to new data.
Department of Agriculture data shows that 6.4 million fewer Americans received food stamps in September, at the end of the 2019 fiscal year, than in January 2017, when President Donald Trump took office.
Roughly 42.7 million people were enrolled in SNAP in January 2017, compared to 36.3 million last September.
That 15 percent drop has also meant that SNAP, which is administered by states but funded by the federal government, now costs American taxpayers $13 billion less than in 2016.
The White House noted last month that not only have Americans previously classified as unemployed found jobs, those who were not even seeking work are now working.
“The prime-age labor force has grown by 2.1 million people since the election, reversing losses under the prior administration’s expansion period, which totaled approximately 1.5 million people. This evidence suggests that the labor market’s revival over the past three years is not a continuation of past trends, but instead a result of President Trump’s pro-growth policies,” the White House wrote in a December report on the labor force, which includes Americans who are working or looking for work.
The report said the roaring economy means many Americans now have more money.
“For 16 straight months, annual nominal wage growth has been at or above 3 percent, a level not reached since the Great Recession, and continues to outpace inflation. Importantly, wage growth for many disadvantaged groups is now higher than wage growth for more advantaged groups, as is the case for lower-income workers compared to higher-income workers, workers compared to managers, and African Americans compared to whites,” the report said.
One official said the economy is lifting Americans off of SNAP.
“We have had the longest economic expansion in the history of the U.S under President Trump,” Brandon Lipps, the USDA’s deputy undersecretary for Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, told the Washington Examiner. “Employers are hungry for employees, and they have now moved into employment. It’s because they’re employed and above the level of poverty that they no longer qualify for SNAP.”
A new rule, meanwhile, seeks to increase the work requirements for some SNAP recipients.
According to current policy, adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents who can work are limited to three months of benefits over 36 months unless they are working or are in a job training program for at least 20 hours per week.
However, states can apply to the federal government for waivers of that requirement, citing high unemployment. The new rule makes it harder for states to get a waiver.
The Department of Agriculture estimates about 688,000 people would lose access to SNAP out of about 2.1 million adults without dependents who are SNAP-eligible but not working.
Only 800,000 of those eligible to work are in fact working, according to the USDA. The rule will save $5.5 billion over five years, the agency said, as NBC News reported.
Lipps said that the change meshes with the goal of SNAP, which is to provide temporary help when families hit hard times.
The administration’s critics do not see it that way.
“The Trump administration has deliberately taken policy actions to reduce the number of needy people getting food assistance under SNAP,” Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy, told the Examiner. “It has gone around Congress to change policies with bipartisan support in order to make people hungrier.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the new rule “would potentially throw hundreds of thousands off food assistance, driving the vulnerable into hunger.”
“This is cruel and exposes a deep and shameful hypocrisy in this administration,” he said on the Senate floor last month, according to USA Today.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said that the administration wants to end dependency on Washington programs.
“Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream. We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” Perdue said in a news release.
Perdue elaborated on his philosophy regarding SNAP in an Op-Ed for the Arizona Daily Star.
“Our SNAP program should be structured to work with our changing economy, not be stuck in the past,” Perdue wrote. “This is why I made it a top priority to ensure people have the tools they need to move away from SNAP dependency and back toward self-sufficiency. At the USDA we are working to restore the original intent of SNAP — one that provides a safety net for those in need but encourages accountability and self-sufficiency.”
“The USDA’s actions to reform SNAP restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, while also respecting the taxpayers who fund the program. Our action to encourage work will help fill the critical need for more workers in our economy,” he added.
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