The Trump administration has put out a call for ideas on how to get people on food stamps back to work, but anti-hunger advocates fear it’s a first step toward a new rule that would kick thousands of unemployed people out of the program.
Federal law prohibits unemployed adults aged 18 to 49 who are not disabled or raising minor children from receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for more than three months over a three-year period.
To keep the benefit, these adults must work at least 20 hours a week, participate in a state work-training program or volunteer. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) said about 3.8 million of the 42 million people who participate in SNAP are able-bodied adults without dependents.
But a state can apply to have the federal government waive the work requirement if it can show there aren’t enough jobs in the area.
Those waivers are an issue for the USDA. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said too many states have asked to waive the work requirement, “abdicating their responsibility to move participants to self-sufficiency.”
“Past decisions may have been the easy short-term choice, but USDA policies must change if they contribute to a long-term failure for many SNAP participants and their families,” Perdue said in a statement last month.
Five states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statewide waivers now, while 28 states have waivers for certain areas, according to the USDA’s website.
In an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking late last month, the USDA signaled that it’s looking to put new restrictions on waiver eligibility.
Currently, states can qualify for a waiver if an area has an average 12-month unemployment rate of more than 10 percent or the state can show it does not have a sufficient number of jobs to provide employment.
Supporters of changing the waiver rules say stricter requirements will push people back into the workforce.