The Trump administration’s plans for food stamps could cost more than 750,000 people their benefits, and most of these folks are among the poorest of the poor.
The administration wants to make more Americans work for their food stamps by limiting states’ ability to seek waivers from the current employment requirement. More than three-quarters of a million people could fall off the rolls, according to the Department of Agriculture.
The proposal, however, would hit very poor Americans, researcher Karen Cunnyngham told a House subcommittee Wednesday. The average monthly income of this group is $557, or 43% of the poverty level. Only 11% had jobs, but they didn’t work enough to satisfy the proposed requirement, according to Cunnyngham, an associate director at Mathematica, a policy research firm.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the food stamp program is formally known, already requires non-disabled, working-age adults without dependents to have jobs. They can only receive benefits for three months out of every 36 months unless they work or participate in training programs at least 20 hours a week.
But states can waive that time limit in areas with high unemployment or where there is an insufficient number of jobs, as defined by the Department of Labor.
In keeping with its push to add work requirements to safety net programs, the Trump administration is looking to tighten the definition of areas where there are insufficient jobs. The area’s unemployment rate must also be at least 7%.
The agency announced the rule in December on the same day as President Donald Trump signed a farm bill that had a similar provision that was eventually eliminated. Thousands of people have submitted comments, many of them opposing the proposal.
Several experts told members of the House Agriculture subcommittee that requiring people to work will not lead to their gaining employment.
“Those subject to the time limit have profound barriers to employment,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
The association found that one in three clients reported they have a physical or mental limitation, one-third did not finish high school or have a GED and more than half don’t have reliable transportation.
Republicans pushed back, saying that employment helps people move out of poverty.
“Work has dignity. Work is opportunity. Work is not a dirty word,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, the nutrition subcommittee’s ranking member. “Able-bodied adults cannot be kept on the sidelines while we witness historically low unemployment and a record-high seven million open jobs.”