Hundreds of Thousands Could Lose Food Stamps Under Federal Rule Change


A Trump administration rule change announced Wednesday could leave almost 700,000 people without food stamp benefits by mid-2020. 

The Department of Agriculture says it will tighten work requirements for some recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

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Under current rules, work-eligible able-bodied adults without dependents and between the ages of 18 and 49 can currently receive only three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period if they don’t meet the 20-hour work requirement. But states with high unemployment rates or a demonstrable lack of sufficient jobs can waive those time limits.

Today, states can grant waivers to areas where unemployment is at least 20% higher than the national average. But starting April 1, 2020, those areas must also have a rate of unemployment that is at least 6%.

The Trump administration says the change will save the federal government billions of dollars and help transition people off food stamps. But some activists and politicians have called the decision cruel and unfair.

“The critical thing that you have to remember about this group, this population that’s going to be subjected to this requirement, is that they face a lot of really severe barriers to achieving consistent employment,” said Nolan Downey, a staff attorney at Chicago’s Shriver Center on Poverty Law. “A lot of them have physical and mental limitations that don’t quite rise to the level of receiving disability benefits, but nonetheless really impact their ability to work.”

Downey says SNAP benefits are an essential safety net tool for people who are fighting poverty.

“It’s always important for people to recognize that you cannot live off this. The “S” in SNAP stands for supplemental, in that it’s not enough to survive off of. What SNAP does, is it helps people think a little bit less about where their next meal is going to come from, and focus a little but more about things that are going to meaningfully improve their life,” he said.

But some libertarian and conservative groups have applauded the rule change. 

Ted Dabrowski is president of the nonprofit Wirepoints, which offers research and commentary on Illinois’ economy and government. He previously worked for the Illinois Policy Institute.

“Right now we find ourselves in one of the best economies we can find ourselves in, and that means that unemployment rate is very low, and there’s a lot of open jobs, so therefore it’s actually a good time to try to get people who have become dependent on food stamps,” he says.

Dabrowski cites Illinois’ notoriously mismanaged finances as another reason to move people off SNAP benefits.

“We’re not doing things right in Illinois. Some people think the more people we have on food stamps, the better we’re going, and that’s not right. The fewer people we have on food stamps, the more people we have working, the better off our economy is, the better off those people are.”

Downey and Dabrowski join “Chicago Tonight” in discussion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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