White House to Tighten Restrictions on Food Stamps

President Donald Trump listens to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during a signing ceremony for H.R. 2, the “Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018,” at the White House on Dec. 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Bad news for the millions of Americans on food stamps: The Trump administration plans to propose a rule Thursday to restrict states’ abilities to provide federal food assistance to people who are not steadily employed.

Proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the policy change follows Congress’s passage of a $400 billion farm bill. While the bill barely altered the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), House members attempted to slip in provisions to make it more difficult to qualify for and remain on the government assistance program. 

This included expanding the age range of recipients obligated to work at least 20 hours per week from 18-49 to 18-59, requiring those with children older than six to complete job training, and restricting the requirements under which families can qualify for SNAP automatically.

While President Donald Trump endorsed the House’s proposed changes, the Senate did not. Trump ultimately supported the farm bill without the SNAP alterations but ordered the USDA to come up with proposals for restrictions on its own.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters Wednesday that he was told to propose “regulatory reforms to ensure those who are able to work do so in exchange for their benefits.”

“We would much rather have Congress enact these important reforms for the SNAP program,” Perdue said during a media call Wednesday. “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.”

States currently have the authority to waive limitations placed on “work-eligible able-bodied adults without dependents” out of compliance with the 20-hour work requirement when their unemployment rates are above 10 percent. These individuals would otherwise only be eligible to receive three months of SNAP benefits over three years.

The USDA’s proposition would take away states’ abilities to waive those requirements unless a city or county has an unemployment rate of 7 percent or higher. Those cities would be eligible for a one-year waiver with the support of their state’s governor.

The new limitations would also prevent states from granting benefit extensions, which they are currently able to do for up to 15 percent of their work-eligible adult population without a waiver. It would also prevent states from stockpiling these exemptions for later use.

The proposed rule already has its critics. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont,‏ tweeted earlier today voicing his opposition. 

“Let’s be absolutely clear about what Trump is doing with his latest food stamps work requirements rule: He is attacking the poor.” Sanders tweeted. “We should be expanding programs like food stamps that lift people out of poverty, not making them even harder to access.”

Dan Glickman, who served as USDA secretary from 1995-2001 also disapproved of the Trump administration’s move.

“The president’s new SNAP (food stamps) proposed rule would take food away from struggling people in areas with too few jobs and do an end run around Congress’ recent decision not to do this!” he tweeted Thursday. “Bad idea, it will increase hunger and nutrition-related diseases.”

The USDA must now take public comment on the proposal.

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