Washington – The Trump administration is planning changes to the food stamp program, making it harder for unemployed couples to get the federal entitlements.
The agriculture department, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, announced in a press release Wednesday that it is making it more difficult for states to waive a requirement that able-bodied adults without children work at least 20 hours a week or lose their benefits.
The change is intended to return the program to the way it was originally envisioned — as an assistance for people going through a hard time and not as a way of life, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a statement.
“We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand, but not allowing it to become an infinitely giving hand,” Perdue said. “Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work.”
The new rule requires all able-bodied people between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents to perform some work in order to continue receiving SNAP benefits. There were nearly 4 million people in this category in 2016, about 75 percent of whom did not work, according to the agriculture department.
Rules already in place limit food stamp benefits to just three months in a three-year period unless they meet the 20-hour per week requirement. But the federal government allows states to waive the work requirement in places of high unemployment. The new rules, which take effect on April 20, would make it harder for states to issue those waivers.
Some estimates say the changes could take away food stamp benefits from 688,000 people and save the government nearly $5 billion over five years.
“The rule restores the system to what Congress intended: assistance through difficult times, not a way of life,” Perdue said.
Democrats have already expressed opposition to the changes, and legal challenges are likely. Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a blistering statement, accusing Trump of “using a federal agency he controls to continue his egregious assault on those Americans most in need” and claimed the rule change was “cold, heartless and despicable.”