- The Trump administartion is moving ahead with rule changes to the food stamp program that could boot 700,000 Americans from public assistance as the spread of the coronavirus continues damaging the US economy.
- The new guidelines are set to take effect on April 1, and most adults without disabilities or children will need to work at least 20 hours to qualify.
- Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the administration had decided to move forward with implementing the guidelines and any change would require approval from Congress.
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The Trump administration is moving forward with rule changes to the nation’s food stamp program that could kick 700,000 Americans off the rolls, even as coronavirus takes a toll on the US economy.
The new guidelines for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) are set to take effect on April 1. They will tighten the ability of states to provide access to food stamps and implement new work requirements for people seeking them.
Adults without children or disability will need to work at least 20 hours to qualify for the program.
At a Tuesday congressional hearing, Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop called the scheduled rule change “particularly cruel” as more Americans stay home from work to avoid the virus or lose their jobs.
Over a quarter of American workers – or 32 million people – don’t have paid sick leave.
Sonny Perdue, the secretary of the Department of Agriculture, told lawmakers that states would be granted leeway to determine “good cause” and exempt people from the rules.
“Obviously if your job says you can’t come to work or you’re sick in that way, that good cause would eliminate need for work requirements under this rule,” Perdue said. “That will be under the discretion of the states to determine that good cause.”
Perdue said that the Trump administration had decided to move forward with implementing the new regulations – and any changes in the timeline would require approval from Congress and the White House.
The Department of Agriculture did not return requests for comment.
Experts say that the timing of the new regulatory changes could end up hurting people who lose their jobs as a result of the virus. Both consumers and companies are forecasted to cut their spending, and gig workers are starting to lose their jobs,The Washington Post reported.
“Requiring SNAP participants to find 20 hours of work or training a week at the same time that officials are urging the public to take drastic steps to protect themselves and their communities puts SNAP participants in an impossible situation,” Ed Bolen, senior policy analyst at the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities, told Business Insider in an email.
Bolen added: “They are being pushed to take a risk to their own health and to others in order to maintain access to food assistance they need to stay healthy.”
He said it’s likely many people wouldn’t know they could claim “good cause” and what life situations qualify under the provision. Being laid off, Bolen noted, wouldn’t be one of them as missed work must be temporary in the new guidelines.
The move echoes the White House’s efforts to put similar requirements in place for Medicaid back in 2018. That met fierce legal challenges that ultimately blocked many states from enacting them after people lost their health insurance coverage.
House Democrats unveiled an economic stimulus package on Thursday that includes emergency food stamp assistance, The Hill reported.