Trump Administration Cracks Down on Food Stamp Regulations
Citing record-low unemployment levels, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a new rule Wednesday that will require more Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to go to work.
According to current rules, able adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without children 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 — the program formerly known as food stamps — 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, the USDA said.
The agency said the rule will save $5.5 billion over five years, according to NBC News.
“Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch,” Perdue said in a news release announcing the rule, which comes in response to an executive order from President Donald Trump.
“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.”
The USDA release noted that the work requirements were created in 1996 as part of a welfare reform package signed by President Bill Clinton, who is quoted in the release as having said, “First and foremost, it should be about moving people from welfare to work. It should impose time limits on welfare. … It [work] gives structure, meaning and dignity to most of our lives.”
The release pointed out that in 2000, with unemployment at 4 percent, America had 17 million SNAP recipients, but currently, with unemployment at 3.6 percent, there are more than 36 million Americans on SNAP.
The new rule will only grant waivers to areas where unemployment tops 6 percent.
In a statement on its website, the USDA said many states have amassed what are known as “discretionary exemptions” that allow individuals to avoid work, and that states carry over unused exemptions from year to year, allowing more people to avoid work than the USDA intended. The new rule limits the use of carry-overs.
“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,” Perdue said on a phone call with reporters.
“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.”
Perdue elaborated on the change 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.
The change drew critics.
“The final rule would cause serious harm to individuals, communities, and the nation while doing nothing to improve the health and employment of those impacted by the rule,” James D. Weill, president of the nonprofit Food Research & Action Center, said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said the new policy “would potentially throw hundreds of thousands off food assistance, driving the vulnerable into hunger just as the Christmas season begins.”
“This is cruel and exposes a deep and shameful hypocrisy in this administration,” he said Wednesday on the Senate floor, according to USA Today.
Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio also used the Christmas theme to attack the Trump administration in an Op-Ed for The Washington Post.
“I’d like to think, like the Grinch, this administration will be moved during this holiday season to see the good in helping the poorest and most vulnerable among us,” she wrote.
“The truth, I fear, is much worse. The president has cynically weaponized the USDA as a blunt political instrument, flying in the face of the department’s stated mission to ‘do right and feed everyone.’ It is a new low in the administration’s war on people in need.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.