Should states have more or less freedom to waive existing federal work requirements for food stamp recipients?
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal government’s food program for the needy, but it’s primarily run by the states. There’s already a work requirement for able-bodied adults without children or dependents, who can only receive three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period unless they work at least 20 hours a week.
But if a state had an unemployment rate of 10.0% or above, they had been able to waive those requirements. Under that scenario, such an adult could receive more benefits for longer periods without first having to meet the 20-hour work requirement.
For context, last month’s national unemployment rate was 3.5%, and the highest state unemployment was Alaska at 6.1%. So in practice, no state is currently able to utilize that federal waiver provision.
Congressional Republicans in 2018 had tried to pass stricter work requirements on food stamp recipients, through their annual farm bill. Yet those requirements failed to pass, despite the party controlling both chambers of Congress at the time.
So the very same December 2018 day that the farm bill was enacted into law with President Trump’s signature, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a new rule making some of congressional Republicans’ intended changes through the executive branch instead.
Specifically, the rule imposed several requirements limiting the ability of a state to impose such an “exempt from work” waiver, including limiting the waiver to only one year, requiring a state’s governor to support the waiver (and not just a state legislature), and removing a state’s ability to grant a waiver for certain hard-hit geographic areas within the state.
What the bill does
The Protect SNAP Act overturns the Agriculture Department’s 2018 rule, once again allowing states more flexibility and freedom to halt work requirements for SNAP food stamp recipients.
The bill was originally introduced in the House later the same day as the Agriculture Department’s rule, in December 2018. The current version was introduced on December 6 last year as bill number H.R. 5349, by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the bill prevents a regulation that would harm millions of lower-class people, who in some cases may rely on governmental assistance to survive.
“President Trump’s cruelty could not be clearer: passing trillions in tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations… while taking food assistance away from the unemployed,” Rep. DeLauro said in a press release. “The Administration’s own data shows it will put millions of Americans at risk of going hungry and cut SNAP by billions of dollars.”
“Secretary Purdue has decided to jam through a regulation that punishes people for being poor. That is unconscionable,” Rep. DeLauro continued. “We cannot cut off this vital lifeline by rigging SNAP against the very people who the program was created to help. People who are food insecure deserve access to food, not further stigmatization.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the government shouldn’t be in the business of giving overly large handouts anyway, but particularly not when last month’s 3.5% unemployment rate is a 21st century low.
“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a press release. “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.”
“Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch,” Perdue continued. “That is the commitment behind SNAP. But like other federal welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life.”
Odds of passage
It awaits a potential vote in the House Agriculture Committee. Odds of passage are slim in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Considering that the rule was established through a Trump administration initiative, the bill’s aims may more likely be accomplished through a Democratic president next year should there be one.