The USDA program—otherwise known as "food stamps"—is adopting stricter standards to qualify for assistance.

By Jelisa Castrodale
December 05, 2019
jetcityimage/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Trump administration confirmed changes to the eligibility requirements for food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The new rule, which will take effect on April 1, 2020, will tighten the work requirements for adults between the ages of 18-49 who are not disabled and don't have children, and it will restrict states' ability to create waivers for areas with high unemployment.

Under the current SNAP program, able-bodied adults are eligible for three months of benefits during a three-year period, unless they work or are enrolled in a training program for at least 20 hours per week. But states have been allowed to apply for waivers for residents of certain counties, even if the unemployment rate in those areas was as low as 2.5 percent. USA Today reports that 36 states currently use those waivers.

Under the new rule, states will not be permitted to issue waivers unless the unemployment rate is 6 percent or higher. The national unemployment rate is currently 3.6 percent.

In a press release announcing the new rules, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited the "booming economy" as one of the reasons for the changes, suggesting that there were "more jobs than workers" who could fill those positions.

"Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement. "Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work."

Critics of the changes were quick to point out that many SNAP recipients are already working, but that doesn't mean that they earn enough to buy food. "The majority of SNAP recipients who can work, do work, however 92 percent of the households who benefit from SNAP have incomes at or below the poverty line. Low wages mean workers are forced to rely on SNAP and food charity to make ends meet," Noreen Springstead, the executive director of WhyHunger, said. "We need to keep our eye on the ball and focus on jobs that pay well, instead of punishing vulnerable people while lauding profits and gains of corporations, many of whom have workers that rely on food stamps."

Food banks have also expressed their concern with the new requirements, suggesting that the change will simply push them beyond their limits. "SNAP provides nine meals for every meal that we provide. Again, we work in partnership but it’s together that we address this issue of hunger. Neither of us could do it alone," Eric Aft, the CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said. “We are not going to be able to make up the number of meals that are going to be lost by significant changes to SNAP."

The USDA has estimated that 688,000 people will lose access to SNAP benefits under the new requirements.

Advertisement