The administration said Wednesday that it had completed a new rule curbing states’ ability to shield adults without dependents from federal work requirements tied to receiving assistance through the program formerly administered via food stamps. Officials say the rule, which takes effect April 1, 2020, will save the government billions of dollars and encourage more people to work at a time when jobless rates are near a 50-year low.
The rule is the first to take effect among several Trump administration proposals to restrict access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which provides aid to 36.4 million people. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, separately has proposed tightening eligibility requirements for low-income households and changing how utility costs factor into eligibility.
“This rule lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans reenter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Whether or not the jobs available suit the able-bodied people in question is another matter.
For able-bodied adults without dependents, U.S. law limits SNAP benefits to three months, unless recipients are working or in training for 20 hours a week. States can waive those limits in areas where unemployment runs 20% above the national rate, which was 3.6% in October.
The new rule requires the unemployment rate to be 6% or higher for states to issue such waivers. The rule also curbs the amount of discretionary exemptions from federal work requirements that states can issue.
With the unemployment rate as low as it is right now, not many states are going to be granting such waivers.
How this works as a practical matter remains to be seen. With states actually doling out the money, the Department of Agriculture is going to have to do quite a bit of monitoring to keep a handle on the rule tightening.