December 24, 2018
Republicans in Congress are trying to ensure that indigent Americans remain at the bottom of the nation’s food chain.
In a USA Today op-ed published on December 20, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, noted that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) “allows millions of people who could work to continue to receive” food stamp benefits.
But all of that is about to change: “Today, at the direction of President Donald J. Trump, we are taking steps to restore integrity to SNAP,” Perdue wrote, “and move people toward self-sufficiency.”
In 2016, there were 3.8 million such SNAP participants (about 8.8% of all participants)—with 2.8 million (or almost 74%) of them not working, Perdue noted, claiming, “This is unacceptable to most Americans and belies common sense, particularly when employment opportunities are as plentiful as they currently are.”
Perdue’s proposed USDA rule would take aim at “able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs),” ages 18 to 49, according to a report by Vox. Currently, this group must work or participate in an employment program for at least 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamps for more than three months over a three-year period.
However, until now, states have been able to waive this time limit under certain conditions—e.g., if their unemployment rate exceeds 10%, or if the rate is 20% above the national average in certain regions. Thirty-six states and territories currently have waivers for some adults without dependents.
Under the new proposal, eligibility for waivers would be greatly limited. Perdue explained, “Our proposed rule limits the availability of waivers for states and promotes work and self-sufficiency in the SNAP program. The proposal restricts waivers to areas where the unemployment rate exceeds 7%, which is when jobs are truly hard to find. It also eliminates the practice of some states which “gerrymander” multiple counties together that are not otherwise connected economically in order to maximize the reach of waiver requests. This practice leads to counties receiving waivers that would not independently qualify.”
According to Perdue, “… these regulatory changes by USDA will reward more Americans with the virtue of work, save hardworking taxpayers $15 billion over ten years, and give President Trump comfort enough to support a Farm Bill he might otherwise have opposed.”
However, while Republicans assert that benefits such as SNAP discourage people from working, according to the researchers who study SNAP, there’s no good evidence that it acts as a work disincentive. And there is also no evidence that imposing more stringent work requirements will “cure” poverty.
As Sarah Reinhardt, a food systems and health analyst for the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement: “The administration’s insistence on restricting access to food assistance, despite strong opposition from experts and ample evidence of the program’s effectiveness, is simply mean-spirited.”
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