NCLEJ Condemns Trump Administration’s Draconian SNAP “Work Requirement”

Today, the Trump Administration issued a final rule that will deprive 700,000 low-income individuals of basic food assistance. Rather than address the needs of low-income families and individuals, this Administration exacerbates the challenges they face and leaves them without any means to provide for themselves.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) is set to cut some of the nation’s poorest from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP,” or formerly known as Food Stamps), rendering them unable to access healthy and nutritious food.  Among the hardest hit will be low-income individuals of color, persons who have not completed more than a high school education, people who live in rural areas, and workers in volatile low-wage industries who can only work less than 20 hours per week.

Since 1996, the USDA has limited receipt of SNAP benefits by low-income persons who are 18 to 49 years old and who are not raising minor children (referred to by the rule as “Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents” or “ABAWDs”) to just three months’ worth of food assistance within a three-year period, unless they work at least 20 hours each week. However, states have always been able to apply for waivers that exempt from this rule individuals who live in areas where jobs are scarce, particularly when unemployment rates are high around the country. Currently, 36 states benefit from this ability to protect some unemployed and underemployed adults from having to comply with these harsh SNAP work rules in order to receive basic food assistance.

Copious data, research, and prior agency experience with these work rules in both the SNAP and Medicaid programs show that additional eligibility requirements do nothing to help alleviate poverty and do not actually transition people into stable jobs. Instead, these draconian work requirements cut off assistance from persons who need the benefits and provide no safety net upon which struggling families can fall back when they are inevitably disenrolled from these programs.

But now the Trump Administration is departing from long-standing and bipartisan policy in favor of one that mounts an attack on the nation’s poorest. Under the new rule, states will only be able to apply for exemption waivers for areas where the average unemployment rate is 20 percent or higher than the national average over the course of a recent 24-month period, and only if the national average was 6 percent or higher. With this new rule, the Administration aims to restrict states’ ability to apply for these protective waivers, reducing the number of vulnerable residents in economically hard-hit areas that could be exempt from the strict SNAP work requirements.

Earlier this year, NCLEJ submitted comments opposing this proposed rule, highlighting the negative impact it would have on SNAP recipients and how the expansion of the ABAWD rule misuses agency resources that would be better spent on the improvement of current ABAWD rule implementation. NCLEJ will continue to fight for fairness and justice for low-income individuals and their families by ensuring that public programs like SNAP continue to assist those who are eligible and in need of support.