USDA finalizes new food stamp work requirements

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has finalized new work requirements that could strip food stamp eligibility from nearly 700,000 Americans.

The rules will affect able-bodied men and woman ages 18 to 49 who don’t have children. They restrict states’ ability to extend benefits beyond 90 days for those who don’t work at least 20 hours per week.

The USDA says the rules, finalized Wednesday and going into effect April 1, are about putting more people back to work, saying the economy and low unemployment numbers prove there is ample opportunities.

But Democrats are outraged.

“Frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said, adding that the rules are an attack on the country’s poorest citizens. “Thousands of people who mostly have jobs, that are working at $8 and $9 and $10 an hour, will lose some of the help they get to feed their families.”

But USDA Food Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps said the safety net is still there.

“States have the option to exempt 12% of their population. Individuals don’t have to go to work tomorrow. They can get three months of benefits without any requirement and at that point, they just have to begin volunteering,” he said.

He said the Trump’s administration’s goal is to motivate Americans to find jobs.

“This is about believing in the opportunity of individuals to move to work,” Lipps said.

But Stacy Dean of the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, who has worked on food stamp policy for decades, said it’s not quite so simple.

“(The rules) can be very, very difficult for an individual who may be struggling against homelessness, may have no transportation,” she said. “I think we should be doubling down on improving that program and other key work supports, not weakening the safety net.”

Congress tried to pass a similar work requirement rule last year but it failed, with both Democrats and Republicans voting against it.

“This rule could cause one million people to lose their food assistance, while doing nothing to help them find jobs,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a Thursday statement. “This Administration is out of touch with families who are struggling to make ends meet by working seasonal jobs or part time jobs with unreliable hours. Seasonal holiday workers, workers in Northern Michigan’s tourism industry, and workers with unreliable hours like waiters and waitresses are the kinds of workers hurt by this proposal. There’s a reason Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly rejected this callous proposal in the Farm Bill and instead focused on bipartisan job training opportunities that actually help families find good paying jobs.

“Congress considered and chose not to include similar changes to SNAP in the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill. In fact, an amendment to SNAP was rejected by the House of Representatives by a vote of 83-330 in 2018. A similar amendment proposed in the Senate was rejected by a bipartisan vote of 68-30. After the rule was proposed, 47 Senators from both parties urged the Administration to withdrawal the rule.”

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