The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would move to make sure able-bodied Americans work to receive food stamp benefits, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said could save billions of dollars in taxpayer money each year.
The Agriculture Department unveiled expanded work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. A move to expand such requirements was included in a $400 billion farm bill recently passed by Congress, but was stripped out at the last minute.
According to the proposed rule, those who are able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) would need to work at least 20 hours per week up to age 59 in order to receive government assistance.
"Under current SNAP requirements, ABAWDs must work or participate in an employment program for at least 20 hours a week to continue to receive benefits for more than three months over a 36-month period," the USDA said. "States may request to waive the time limit in areas with an unemployment rate above 10 percent or where there are ‘not sufficient jobs,’ which current regulations primarily define as an unemployment rate 20 percent above the national average.
"With today’s strong economy, that could include areas with unemployment rates of under 5 percent – a rate normally considered to be full employment. In 2016 there were 3.8 million individual ABAWDs on the SNAP rolls, with 2.8 million (or almost 74 percent) of them not working," the USDA said.
“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “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.”
Some 40 million Americans who qualify — about 12% of the total U.S. population — receive assistance from SNAP. The Trump administration said Wednesday that enacting the proposed rule would save U.S. taxpayers $15 billion over the next decade, the Associated Press reported.
The Agriculture Department said the proposed rule “is meant to restore the system to what it was meant to be: assistance through difficult times, not lifelong dependency. Over time, without any changes in the underlying welfare reform legislation of 1996, that ideal has been watered down by out-of-control administrative flexibility in SNAP.”
“Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch,” Perdue said. “That is the commitment behind SNAP. But like other federal welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life.”
"A central theme of the Trump administration has been to expand prosperity for all Americans, which includes helping people lift themselves out of pervasive poverty," he said, adding that the proposed rule "restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, while it's also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program."
Perdue said of the 2.8 ABAWD's receiving food stamps but not working, "This is unacceptable to most Americans and belies common sense, particularly when employment opportunities are plentiful as they currently are. The nation's economy is booming and unemployment is at lowest ... since 1969."