The United States Department of Agriculture proposed a rule last month to make states enforce work requirements in their food stamps programs, after similar changes were dropped from the farm bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The proposal announced Dec. 20 does not add new work requirements but limits the exceptions a state can offer able-bodied adults without dependents. The USDA noted that about 74 percent of the 3.8 million able-bodied adults without dependents enrolled in food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in 2016 did not work. These adults now must work 20 hours a week to receive SNAP benefits for more than three months out of every three years. After that, they must work at least 80 hours per month to continue getting assistance, receiving more benefits when they make less money.
Currently, states can override these rules and extend SNAP benefits to an individual in certain situations, such as unusually high unemployment in the state. The number of unused exceptions a state has carries over into the next year. The USDA’s proposal would limit these time waivers, forcing states to enforce the existing work requirements more consistently.
The proposal was announced the day Trump signed an $887 billion farm bill passed by Congress earlier this year. Lawmakers fought over the tougher work requirements in the bill, which would have raised the age of adults who must meet work requirements from 49 to 59, among other new rules. Despite the president’s supportive tweets, Congress could not reach an agreement and dropped the work requirements in order to pass the bill. The president then turned to the Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
“I have directed Secretary Perdue to use his authority to close work requirement loopholes in the food stamp program,” Trump said. “That was a difficult thing to get done, but the farmers wanted it done, we all wanted it done, and in the end, it’s going to make a lot of people happy.”
Democrats tend to believe work requirements for SNAP make life unnecessarily hard for poor people who are already suffering. Republicans usually to see the rules as an encouragement for poor people, putting them on the path of independence and leaving poverty.
Robert Doar, a Morgridge fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, used to manage SNAP in New York City for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and believes in instituting work requirements for able-bodied adults.
“Managing government safety-net programs … made it clear that the only way out of poverty is through earnings,” he wrote regarding the farm bill in September. “SNAP and other safety net programs can and do reduce material hardship, but for non-workers, receiving support from such programs alone is not enough to raise incomes above the poverty line. If people are to escape poverty, earnings must be part of the equation.”
The USDA’s proposal will now go through a period for public comment.