Nearly 700,000 Americans now receiving food stamps will be cut from the program under a new rule finalized on Wednesday by the Trump administration. It’s set to take effect on April 1, 2020.
As announced in a call to reporters by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the rule tightens work requirements for participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and applies to able-bodied adults with no dependents.
The new rule “arrives as part of a broader effort to limit access to the federal food safety net, the first of three such measures in the works,” reports the Washington Post. “The USDA initially estimated that up to 750,000 individuals would be dropped from SNAP if the proposal took effect. In Wednesday’s call, the USDA adjusted that figure to 688,000.”
“Hunger advocates have repeatedly emphasized that SNAP is intended to address hunger and not compel people to work,” says NBC News. “Many also noted that those affected are impoverished, tend to live in rural areas, often face mental health issues and disabilities. Black and Hispanic households, women and LGBTQ people would be disproportionately affected by the change.”
Currently, able-bodied adults without dependents can receive SNAP benefits (food stamps) for no more than three months in a three-year period, unless they’re employed or in a work-training program for at least 80 hours per month.
“But states have been able to waive this time limit to ensure access to food stamps during the ups and downs of re-entering the workforce,” the Post says, quoting federal officials as saying that “about 7 percent of the individuals on SNAP are considered able-bodied adults without dependents … and that the rule will save the government $5.5 billion over five years.”
Perdue said on the call that “Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch.” He noted that U.S. unemployment is currently at a 50-year low of 3.6% — implying that this is not such a stretch.
The new rule, Perdue said, “is about restoring the original intent of food stamps … moving more able-bodied Americans to self sufficiency.”
The rule applies only to individuals aged 18-49 and will not affect children and their parents, those over 50, pregnant women or those with disabilities.
“The other two proposed rule changes, not yet final, aim to cap [tax] deductions for utility allowance and to limit access to SNAP for working poor families,” the Post says, citing an Urban Institute study showing that “the combined impact of these rules would cut 3.7 million people from SNAP in an average month.”
That study says millions of other Americans “would experience reductions in monthly benefits and 982,000 students would lose automatic access to free or reduced price school meals.”
The new rule drew sharp criticism from lawmakers in both parties.
“This is an unacceptable escalation of the administration’s war on working families, and it comes during a time when too many are forced to stretch already-thin budgets to make ends meet. The USDA is the Grinch that stole Christmas. Shame on them,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), chair of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, in a statement.