USDA’s Proposed SNAP Rule a Trump Administration Temper Tantrum, Would Punish Working Poor

Statement by Sarah Reinhardt, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Dec 20, 2018

WASHINGTON (December 20, 2018)— Hours before President Trump is to sign the bipartisan 2018 farm bill into law, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue introduced a convoluted rule that would make it harder for people to put food on the table. House Republicans had delayed the farm bill negotiations for months in the hopes of limiting eligibility for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). However, the final bipartisan farm bill did not include those changes, keeping the program intact. Now, Perdue is trying to assuage hardliners in his party with a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule that would limit states’ abilities to keep work-ready adults in the program when they are struggling to find employment.

Currently, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) must work or participate in a qualifying workforce training program for at least 80 hours per month; if they don’t, they can only receive three months of benefits in a three-year period. State waivers suspend this three-month time limit when there is high unemployment or low job availability in the respective state. However, finding stable employment in this timeframe is rarely possible under any circumstances. Last year, nearly 40 percent of all people able to work and looking for jobs couldn’t find work within 15 weeks. As of now, 29 states are offering partial waivers for ABAWD work requirements, and seven states and territories are providing statewide waivers.

Below is a statement by Sarah Reinhardt, food systems and health analyst for the Food and Environment Program at UCS.

“Agriculture Secretary Perdue’s proposal is full of wonk, but the bottom line is that it will kick people with legitimate needs off SNAP in both rural and urban communities. This isn’t SNAP reform, which would imply improvement. This rule doesn’t even pretend to make SNAP more effective or give people tools to find jobs with consistent hours and adequate pay to make ends meet. Moreover, the rule’s new administrative burdens could increase costs for state and local governments.

“This rule is a classic Trump White House temper tantrum. When they can’t get what they want legislatively, they ram their ideological objectives through administratively. More than just serving as a ‘consolation prize’ for House Republicans who couldn’t force their bad ideas into the farm bill, Perdue’s proposal will punish work-ready people for living in places with persistent poverty and poor job prospects. 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.”


For more details about how the proposed rule affects states' SNAP waivers, see Sarah Reinhardt's blog.