After Congress passed the $867 billion Farm Bill last week without the House's "cruel" and "shameful" provisions to tighten work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—often called food stamps—the Trump administration is pushing to impose such restrictions through changes at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
"This regulation blatantly ignores the bipartisan farm bill that the president is signing today and disregards over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions."
—Sen. Debbie Stabenow
While critics including Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter charged that the final Farm Bill "fails to fix critical problems in our food system," she and many others expressed relief that it "does not include many of the horrible provisions from the House bill that would have gutted the safety net provided by SNAP."
The USDA's new proposed rule is supposedly a trade-off for President Donald Trump's support of the Farm Bill, which he is expected to sign as early as Thursday. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reportedly said on a press call that "the president has directed me to propose regulatory reforms to ensure those who are able to work do so in exchange for their benefits."
Under current SNAP policy, although able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) can only receive three months of food benefits within three years if they don't work at least 20 hours per week, states with high rates of unemployment can waive those restrictions and grant extensions to 15 percent of the ABAWD population. Unused exemptions can be saved for later.
That will all change if Trump has his way. As the Associated Press outlined:
The USDA's proposed rule would strip states' ability to issue waivers unless a city or county has an unemployment rate of seven percent or higher. The waivers would be good for one year and would require the governor to support the request. States would no longer be able to bank their 15 percent exemptions. The new rule also would forbid states from granting waivers for geographic areas larger than a specific jurisdiction.
Noting that by the administration's own calculations, "the rule could jeopardize food assistance for some 755,000 Americans struggling to find stable work," Rebecca Vallas, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress (CAP), delivered a scathing takedown of the proposal on Twitter.
"The Trump [administration] is dressing up their cruel cuts in the language of work, claiming their mass starvation plan is about the 'dignity of work.' Well, I've got news for them. Making struggling workers hungrier won't help them find work any faster."
—Rebecca Vallas, CAP
"As we know, Trump doesn't give up when he can't get his cruel agenda through Congress," she said. "The Trump [administration] is dressing up their cruel cuts in the language of work, claiming their mass starvation plan is about the 'dignity of work.' Well, I've got news for them. Making struggling workers hungrier won't help them find work any faster."
"In fact, taking basics like food away from people unable to meet strict work reporting requirements is *directly* counterproductive to the goal of work," Vallas added. "Research shows that when workers have access to those basics, they're better able to work and have higher earnings."
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"If Trump actually gave any f*cks about the 'dignity of work,'" she concluded, "instead of taking food out of the mouths of struggling workers, he'd be raising the poverty-level minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25/hour for nearly a decade."
BREAKING: After failing to gut food stamps in the Farm Bill, Trump has announced he plans to sidestep Congress & unilaterally slash the program by fiat—just days before Christmas.
— Rebecca Vallas (@rebeccavallas) December 20, 2018
News of the USDA proposal also outraged the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate agriculture committee.
"Congress writes laws, and the administration is required to write rules based on the law," Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), 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."
"This regulation blatantly ignores the bipartisan Farm Bill that the president is signing today and disregards over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions," she added to the AP. "I expect the rule will face significant opposition and legal challenges."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) turned to Twitter to weigh in, and accused Trump of "attacking the poor." The senator added, "We should be expanding programs like food stamps that lift people out of poverty, not making them even harder to access."
Let’s be absolutely clear about what Trump is doing with his latest food stamps work requirements rule: he is attacking the poor.
We should be expanding programs like food stamps that lift people out of poverty, not making them even harder to access. https://t.co/ZXsenxAaqn
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 20, 2018
This post has been updated with comment from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).