Thursday, December 20, 2018

Squeezing the poor

The Trump administration is setting out to tighten work requirements for millions of Americans who receive federal food assistance.

A proposed rule would restrict the ability of states to exempt work-eligible adults from having to obtain steady employment to receive food stamps.

Currently, able-bodied adults aged 18-49 without children are required to work 20 hours a week to maintain their Snap benefits. The House bill would have raised the age of recipients subject to work requirements from 49 to 59 and required parents with children older than six to work or participate in job training. The House measure also sought to limit circumstances under which families that qualify for other poverty programs can automatically be eligible for Snap.

Work-eligible able-bodied adults without dependents, known as ABAWDs, can currently receive only three months of Snap benefits in a three-year period if they do not meet the 20-hour work requirement. But states with an unemployment rate of 10% or higher or a demonstrable lack of sufficient jobs can waive those limitations.
States are also allowed to grant benefit extensions for 15% of their work-eligible adult population without a waiver. If a state does not use its 15%, it can bank the exemptions to distribute later, creating what the agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, referred to as a “stockpile”.
The USDA’s proposed rule would strip states’ ability to issue waivers unless a city or county has an unemployment rate of 7% or higher. The waivers would be good for one year and would require the governor to support the request. States would no longer be able to bank their 15% exemptions. The new rule also would forbid states from granting waivers for geographic areas larger than a specific jurisdiction.
Perdue said, “The president has directed me to propose regulatory reforms to ensure those who are able to work do so in exchange for their benefits,” Perdue said during a media call on Wednesday. “We would much rather have Congress enact these important reforms for the Snap program. However, these regulatory changes by the USDA will save hardworking taxpayers $15bn over 10 years and give President Trump comfort enough to support a farm bill he might otherwise have opposed.”
The Trump administration’s effort, while celebrated by some conservatives, has been met with criticism from advocates who say tightening restrictions will result in more vulnerable Americans, including children, going hungry. A Brookings Institution study published this summer said more stringent work requirements are likely to hurt those who are already part of the workforce but whose employment is sporadic. 

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