Trump proposal seeks to tighten the screw on food stamps

Published on
December 21, 2018

With food stamp eligibility requirements left untouched in the 2018 Farm Bill, the Trump administration is looking at taking another route to make changes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans to introduce a potential rule change that would limit states’ ability to grant waivers for the work requirements tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Currently, able-bodied adults ages 18-49 who do not have dependents can receive SNAP benefits for no more than three months within a three-year window unless they are working or participating in a job training program for at least 20 hours per week.

States can get a waiver that allow them to provide SNAP benefits for longer periods of time if the state’s unemployment rate is at least 10 percent or if it can demonstrate that there are not enough jobs available.

Currently, 29 states and territories have a partial waiver in place, including the country’s four most populous states. Seven have statewide or district-wide exemptions: Alaska, the District of Columbia, Guam, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Under the proposed rule change, such a waiver can only be sought for up to one year for a specific city or county if its unemployment rate is at or above 7 percent. The changes would eliminate the option to show there are not enough jobs available and would also prohibit states from granting blanket waivers for the entire state, territory or district.

On a conference call with reporters, USDA Food and Nutrition Services Administrator Brandon Lipps said the proposal would potentially save up to $15 billion over the next decade.

As of 2016, 3.8 million of the 40 million SNAP recipients nationwide are able-bodied adults without dependents, and an estimated 755,000 people would lose benefits over the next three years if the rule change proposed by the USDA goes into effect. The rule would not be applied to elderly people, the disabled and pregnant women.

The move came on the same day that President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which passed out of both Congressional chambers with bipartisan support.

The Farm Bill covers funding for a wide range of federal agriculture and nutrition-related programs, including crop insurance, conservation programs, the Food Distribution on Indian Reservations Program, the Senior Nutrition Program, school meals and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Federal nutrition programs account for about 80 percent of the Farm Bill’s spending.

Although additional work requirements were included in the version of the Farm Bill that passed out of the House of Representatives, they were not in the version that passed out of the Senate and were eventually scrapped in the reconciliation process.

In a conference call with reporters, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the proposed rule was part of a compromise to get President Trump to sign the measure.

“We would much rather have Congress enact these important reforms for the SNAP program,” Perdue said. “However, these regulatory changes by the USDA will save hardworking taxpayers $15 billion over 10 years and give President Trump comfort enough to support a farm bill he might otherwise have opposed.”

Once the proposal is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to provide comments before it is potentially enacted.