(CN) – Hundreds of thousands of Americans are set to lose their food stamp benefits under tighter state requirements unveiled by the Trump administration Wednesday.
Adults who are eligible to work and claim no dependents can receive benefits through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Under the 1996 welfare law, recipients are limited to three months of benefits in any three-year period if they are not working or in a training program for at least 20 hours a week.
Current rules allow states with low levels of employment or few job opportunities to waive these restrictions, but the Trump administration on Wednesday finalized a rule that imposes stricter criteria on states providing exemptions.
Specifically, the new rule stipulates that states can only waive the limit on benefits if a city or county has an unemployment rate above 6%.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly every state has at some point asked the Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, to temporarily suspend the three-month limit for people in areas lacking industry.
The SNAP program helps feed more than 36 million Americans, and the stricter work requirements rolled out Wednesday are expected to eliminate benefits for about 688,000 recipients.
The USDA estimates the change will save roughly $5.5 billion over five years.
“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,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
Perdue said the new rule lays the groundwork for “the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them.”
The USDA said the majority of public comments that were submitted generally opposed the rule, but did not identify specific provisions or provide recommendations on how to address the policy issues identified by the department.
Food Research & Action Center, a nonprofit focused on eliminating poverty-related hunger, said in a statement that the Trump administration has politicized the process, arbitrarily narrowing states’ ability to waive the time limit in many areas with insufficient jobs.
“This action flies in the face of congressional intent, coming almost a year after Congress passed the Farm Bill that left the current area waiver provisions in place,” James Weill, the group’s president, said in a statement.
The rule is set to take effect next April.