Conservatives, including the Trump administration, wanted to impose new work requirements on those using SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. After outrage from progressives, activists, economists, and scientists, those requirements were scrapped, and the Farm Bill was signed without them. But the Trump administration on Thursday, just after signing the Farm Bill into law, declared that it would be completely ignoring the bipartisan decision and instead simply imposing the work requirements anyway.
The new work requirements work predominantly affect the way waivers are allocated. Existing law does in fact have work requirements; able-bodied adults without dependents, for example, are limited to three months of assistance every three years if they are not working or participating in job training for at least 80 hours per month. But states frequently apply for waivers, because local circumstances vary widely. One location might simply not offer job training. Another might have unemployment rates far higher than the national average, making it much harder for people to find jobs.
In a USDA statement, the Trump administration proposed a new set of restrictions. The most basic one simply reduces the number of waivers available, nationwide. Currently that number is set at 15 percent, with the ability to roll over unused exceptions to the next year. The new proposal would cut that to 12 percent, and eliminate the roll-over aspect.
Another restriction would look at unemployment data in larger geographical areas, meaning that very poor places with high unemployment rates that happen to be near-ish to rich areas would have their number of available waivers greatly diminished. This is, pretty obviously, an attack on the urban poor and people of color. Geographic proximity, of course, has very little to do with access to jobs; Wall Street may only be a few miles from the housing projects of East New York, but that hardly matters.
The USDA research itself suggests that about 755,000 people would lose SNAP benefits as a result of these changes. This is despite the fact that fraud is exceedingly low in SNAP and that over and over, SNAP has been shown to have an outsized, beneficial impact on the economy, especially for farmers and food producers. And the fact that it’s, you know, the right thing to do. And that Congress specifically examined and rejected this proposal literally hours before this release went out.