This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new rule tightening requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. The rule will decrease the number of people eligible for SNAP benefits by nearly 2%, which means 688,000 people will no longer qualify.
SNAP benefits, formerly known as Food Stamps, is a federal assistance program that helps 36 million people in the U.S. afford groceries. Current law limits able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents to three months of food stamps within a three-year period unless they work or attend a training program for at least 20 hours a week. However, certain states with areas that have struggling job markets have been able to waive that limit. This new Trump administration rule will do away with the ability to waive, in an attempt, supporters say, to encourage more people to find employment. However, anti-hunger advocates are saying the rule will hurt those who cannot find jobs and live in areas with few available.
In a press release, the organization announced that the new rule will promote work in the midst of record-low unemployment.
“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in the press release. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”
According to the USDA, there were 4 million people in 2016 who were able-bodied between the ages of 18 and 49 who did not have children that were receiving food stamps. Out of those 4 million, the USDA says nearly three-quarters did not work. The cuts in assistance will save the government an estimated $5 billion over five years.
According to SNAP to Health, SNAP rules dictate that those who use SNAP be at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Level, which, for a three-person family would be $2,213 a month — about $26,600 a year. Nearly 45% of all SNAP recipients are children, and out of those, almost two-thirds live in single-parent households. More than 75% of SNAP benefits go to families with children, 11.9% go to households with disabled people and 10% go to households with senior citizens.
Almost 40% of SNAP participants are white, 25.5% are African American, 10.9% are Hispanic, 2.4% are Asian and 1% are Native American.
The unemployment rate is at 3.6%, but still, more people are on SNAP now than they were in 2000, when the unemployment rate was 4% and 17 million were receiving the aid.
The press release states waivers were granted in counties with unemployment as 2.5%.
Though the unemployment rate is low, it is important to recognize that the figure is measured by assessing the numbers of those who are actively looking for jobs and doesn’t take into account those who are unemployed and have stopped looking.
The new rule is set to take effect in February 2020, but opposition to the rule is strong, and it is possible it will face legal challenges. States are saying the rule will place a larger burden on social service agencies. Democrats in Congress have already threatened to sue if the rule goes into effect.
James D. Weill, president of the nonprofit Food Research & Action Center, released a statement saying the rule will hurt those who live in areas with few jobs.
“The administration has now politicized the process, arbitrarily narrowing states’ ability to waive the time limit in many areas with insufficient jobs,” Weill said.
An NPR piece outlining the proposed bill in April featured insight from Craig Gundersen, a professor of agriculture and consumer economics at the University of Illinois, who said there was no evidence that receiving SNAP benefits discourages people from working.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shared a statement on Twitter, saying House Democrats would fight the rule.
SNAP is our country’s most effective anti-hunger initiative. The USDA’s cynical new rule does nothing to close the income inequality gap and instead threatens to take food away from millions of Americans. House Democrats will not be silent. #HandsOffSNAP https://t.co/m8DDWqrZqo
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 4, 2019
According to the USDA, 11.1% of U.S. households experienced food insecurity at some point in 2018.