When the farm bill passed last week, extremist Republicans like Paul Ryan lamented the fact that they couldn’t starve people with it by adding in work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. They were mollified into voting for it anyway by the promise from Trump that hungry people would get hungrier, and now the administration has revealed its plan for making that happen.
SNAP benefits, once known as food stamps, already require that able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs in government-speak, work in order to get the benefit for longer than three months of a three-year period, but states have had the ability to waive that requirement under USDA regulations. They can do it statewide, or in the areas within their states that have high unemployment rates, 20 percent greater than the national rate which is currently 3.7 percent. The Trump administration is going to try to lower that to an unemployment threshold to just 7 percent above the national rate. As of the latest numbers from 2016, that would be about 755,000 people who’d lose food assistance.
The USDA justifies the change by saying that “nearly half of ABAWDs receiving SNAP now live in waived areas, despite the booming economy and low unemployment. The department’s view is that waivers are intended to provide temporary relief to the time limit while areas face poor economic conditions and should be used accordingly.” That’s ignoring the reality that not every part of the country has rebounded from the great recession. It ignores the reality that large swathes of the country have never and will never boom economically.
Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) questioned the USDA’s legal authority to make this change in a statement released after the announcement. “I expect the rule will face significant opposition and legal challenges. […] Administrative changes should not be driven by ideology. I do not support unilateral and unjustified changes that would take food away from families.”
Expect legal challenges to ensue. Meanwhile, there’s a 60-day public comment period before the rule goes into effect.