The Trump administration announced Thursday it would provide additional restrictions on states’ use of waivers to get out of a requirement mandating able-bodied food stamp recipients to work to receive benefits for more than three months.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—the federal agency in charge of administering food stamps—announced the rule change Thursday at President Donald Trump’s request, which comes after Congress recently passed a farm bill which did not include any provisions requiring food stamp recipients to work to receive benefits.
Even though the 2018 Farm Bill does not include the work requirements provision, Trump is expected to sign the legislation allocating $870 billion towards agricultural programs and food stamps.
But the USDA says it would be tightening current federal regulations on food stamp work requirements.
The agency said it would be going after states’ ability to go around a federal law requiring able-bodied adults without dependents who are between 18 and 49 years old to work, go to school, or participate in job training for 20 hours a week if they receive benefits for more than three months over three years.
According to the latest data from the USDA, 2.8 million able-bodied 18 to 49-year-olds who were not caring for children, elderly, or disabled people had not been working in 2016.
At least 755,000 food stamp recipients who used to qualify for food stamps under the waiver would no longer be eligible to receive benefits under the proposed policy.
Current USDA regulations allow states to waive the work requirement in areas where unemployment is 20 percent higher than the national average, but the USDA’s proposal would only allow states to waive the requirement in areas with more than 7 percent unemployment.
The nationwide unemployment rate is currently at 3.7 percent. The rule changes would also require states to re-apply for waivers every year instead of every two years.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called the rule changes a “common-sense policy” during a period where unemployment is low.
“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “As we make benefits available to those who truly need them, we must also encourage participants to take proactive steps toward self-sufficiency. Moving people to work is common-sense policy, particularly at a time when the unemployment rate is at a generational low.”
Congressional Democrats balked at the measure, calling the rule change a purely ideological move.
“Congress writes laws, and the administration is required to write rules based on the law,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, told the Washington Post. “Administrative changes should not be driven by ideology. I do not support unilateral and unjustified changes that would take food away from families.”
Although Republicans had been frustrated that work requirements were not in the recently-passed farm bill, they were generally supportive of the USDA’s measure.
“I’m not sure we would have been able to get a farm bill had we not allowed the administration to handle it in the way they feel is the best way to handle it,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Pat. Roberts (R-KS).
“I applaud the proposed rule and proudly stand with the Trump administration in demonstrating the importance of state accountability and recipient success,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Michael K. Conaway (R-TX) said in a statement.
Even without the changes, food stamp usage has reached historic lows. The latest USDA data on nationwide food stamp enrollment showed that 47 out of 50 states reported a decline in food stamp usage between September 2017 and 2018.