FederalIssuesTaxes & SpendingTrump Administration Issues Rule Requiring States Operate Under Stricter Food Stamp Work Requirements

The new rule comes after the Trump administration directed the USDA to "empower individuals to seek employment and achieve economic independence, while reserving public assistance programs for those who are truly in need."
December 4, 2019
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its final rule for improving work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program on Wednesday, a program better known as food stamps. 

Under current rules, able-bodied adults aged 18-49 without dependents (also known as “ABAWDs”) must work or look for work at least 20 hours per week or can only receive benefits three months out of every 36 months due to time limit measures enacted during the 1996 welfare reform effort.

However, in areas with over 10 percent unemployment or a “lack of sufficient jobs,” states can request a waiver of that time limit.

But the USDA says states have abused this waiver, liberally applying the “10 percent unemployment” requirement and carrying over unused discretionary exemptions from year to year. Essentially, states were applying their own definition of “lack of sufficient jobs.” 

The new rule clarifies the definition and restricts carryover ability for states seeking waivers.

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Eligible areas must have a 10 percent average unemployment rate over 12 months.

The other criterion, as it currently stands, is that any area with unemployment 20 percent above the national average is also eligible for the time limit waiver. The new rule, however, now requires that “20 percent above” criteria must also be higher than 6 percent unemployment or else a state no longer qualifies for a waiver.

The national unemployment average is currently 3.6 percent and an area 20 percent above that — 4.32 percent unemployment — would no longer qualify under the new USDA rule since its unemployment rate is not higher than 6 percent.

The USDA stated waivers “should only be permitted when the circumstances clearly warrant that action and meet the statutory conditions for approval.”

For the stricter carryover policy, the new limit is 12 percent of the covered individuals in a state from the previous year. Meaning if there are 50,000 people receiving benefits in a particular state this year, the unused exemptions able to carry over to next year would stop at 6,000.

The USDA said that in 2018 nearly 74 percent of the 2.9 million ABAWDs were not working.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said of the decision, “[I]n the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work. This rule lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them.”

The USDA estimates 688,000 people, all of whom are otherwise healthy, work-capable adults without children, would be the only population affected under the new rule. 

It’s also estimated the new rule will save taxpayers $5.5 billion over the next five years.

Waivers currently in effect will expire on March 1 of next year.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.