USDA Officially Drops SNAP Benefit Rule That Would Have Disqualified 700,000 Americans
The Trump administration had pushed for the rule change even as the pandemic drove up food insecurity.
For hundreds of thousands of Americans, the results of the 2020 presidential election are about more than just politics: It may make it easier to put food on the table. The Biden administration has reversed a proposed Trump-era rule that would have tightened the work requirement for able-bodied adults without children, a move that was predicted to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits—often archaically referred to as "food stamps"—for about 700,000 Americans.
Originally announced in 2019, the rule change—which sought to make it more difficult for states to extend benefits beyond the set "three months within a three-year period" limitation—was blocked by a judge last year at a time when the issue was even more polarizing as the COVID-19 pandemic caused dramatic increases in unemployment and food insecurity. Still, the USDA under the Trump administration appealed that decision.
But last week, the D.C. Circuit Court allowed the USDA, which is now led by Biden-appointee Tom Vilsack, to withdraw that appeal, officially killing the proposed rule change. "We are pleased to finally put to rest a policy that would have restricted the ability of states to provide nutrition assistance to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) during times of high unemployment," Agriculture Secretary Vilsack stated. "The rule would have penalized individuals who were unable to find consistent income, when many low wage jobs have variable hours, and limited to no sick leave. Groups with typically higher unemployment, including rural Americans, Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and People of Color, and those with less than a high school education would have been disproportionally harmed by this cruel policy."
The USDA further described the move as a "return to long-standing regulations that existed prior to the publishing of this rule."
As CBS News points out, SNAP enrollment has increased significantly during the pandemic: 41.4 million people were enrolled in the program as of November, up 13 percent from February 2020 when COVID-19 was starting to spread across the U.S.