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At the direction of President Trump, the USDA has announced new, more stringent, work requirements for people receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This new set of rules may keep an estimated 755,000 from receiving SNAP benefits, commonly known as foods stamps.
Many believe this new requirement was the result of closed door dealings. This announcement came the same day President Trump signed the new farm bill, which did not include the SNAP work requirements the Republican Congress had been seeking. By having the mandate come directly from the USDA, which administers the program, the Trump administration was able to use regulatory rulings instead of a congressional and senate vote.
Reducing the number of people receiving food stamps will surely reduce government expenditures, since the average person receives about $142 per month. But will it hold up to legal challenges?
Current SNAP Rules Allow for More People to Receive Benefits
Currently, there are about 40 million people receiving SNAP benefits every month, which is about 12.4 percent of Americans. To receive benefits, able bodied people ages 18-49 without children at home under the age of six, must work 20 hours per week in order to receive food stamps.
However, states have the authority to waive requirements placed on "work-eligible able-bodied adults without dependents" that don't work 20 hours per week if the state's unemployment rates are above ten percent; 39 states and territories currently use this waiver. Without such a waiver, individuals would only receive three months of food stamps over a three year period.
In addition, states can grant benefit extensions for up to fifteen percent of their work-eligible population without seeking any sort of waiver. These waivers and extensions aren't use-it-or-lose-it; they can be stockpiled.
New Regulations Raise Working Age and Offers States Less Waivers
The proposed regulation raises the age of able-bodied workers to 18-59 years of age. Also, waivers for unemployment rate would be based on city and county unemployment rates, rather than by state, and require approval from the state's governor. The rate would drop to seven percent, but that would actually lower the number of people that could get the waiver, since the decision is made on a city/county basis rather than state. In addition, when the waiver is granted, it would be for a one-year period only; the waivers could not be stockpiled. The new proposal also eliminates the fifteen percent waiver.
Did the USDA Abuse Its Regulatory Powers?
Many believe that the administration has overstepped its regulatory power, and that this new rule will face legal challenges. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan believes these new requirements won't last long. "This regulation blatantly ignores the bipartisan farm bill that the president is signing today and disregards over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions," Stabenow said. "I expect the rule will face significant opposition and legal challenges."