The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is set to finalize a proposal to reform the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by encouraging those receiving benefits to work.
The final rule proposes that those who are able-bodied working adults without dependents between the ages of 18-49 who receive food stamps for more than three months in a 36-month period must work, go to school, receive job training, or volunteer to receive benefits.
The rule does not apply to those who are over 50 years old, disabled, pregnant, or caretakers for children.
The law allows states to waive out of this time limit requirement due to poor economic conditions, but before the rule was put into place, areas with unemployment as low as 2.5 percent were eligible for waivers, according to the USDA.
According to the USDA, the reason the rule was put into place was because of record unemployment, decreasing the need for people to be on food stamps. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show that the unemployment rate is 3.6 percent and there are a record seven million job openings.
“We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work. This rule lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them.”
The USDA estimates that approximately 755,000 people would discontinue participating in the nation’s food stamp program under the work requirements rule, and the rule would reduce federal spending by $7.9 billion over five years.
State agencies would also play a special role in putting those on food stamps back to work.
Under the 2018 Farm Bill, state agencies would have the ability to administer employment and training programs to help food stamp recipients “gain the skills, training, or work experience they need to enter, reenter, or remain in the workforce,” according to a USDA letter on SNAP Employment and Training Resources Available to States.
These programs provide everything from job training to necessary work items such as work boots, uniforms, and subsidized transportation.
The USDA’s rule is taking what many states have done on an individual level since 2013 and is taking it nationwide. Since those reforms have been put into place, food stamp enrollment has been declining nationwide.
There are currently 36,401,408 individuals and 18,462,672 households enrolled in SNAP. But USDA officials say those numbers are “preliminary” due to the 2018 government shutdown, which affected food stamp distribution at the start of 2019.
When Trump took office, 42,297,791 individuals and 20,937,903 households were enrolled in food stamps.
Although food stamp participation went up slightly for July and August in the short term, a longer-term look at the data among the states shows that there is a decline in the number of people on food stamps.
Of the states that reported data, 46 out of 50 states reported a percent decrease in the number of people on food stamps over the past year. North Carolina was excluded from the count because it is missing data reports from February 2018 to the present.