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SNAP Limits for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents
The Trump administration has proposed a new rule that would take food assistance away from an estimated 755,000 people by further restricting access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) for people struggling to find steady work.
SNAP currently helps feed 40 million Americans, providing recipients with food assistance equal to about $1.40 per person, per meal. The new rule is being proposed one year after Trump signed a tax law that gave more money in tax cuts to the top 1 percent than the entire SNAP program costs — and just months after nearly identical cuts were rejected on a bipartisan basis in the Farm Bill, the law that authorizes SNAP.
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How does the new rule work?
SNAP already has time limits that require states to limit food assistance to three months out of every three years for most working-age adults without minor children, unless they can document 20 hours of work per week.
However, states can waive these restrictions during times of high unemployment, so that more people can receive help when the local economy is struggling. 33 states and Washington, D.C., currently have waivers in place for certain high unemployment counties, and every state except Delaware has needed to use a waiver at some point since 1996 to help their residents put food on the table when they fall on hard times.
This new rule from the Trump administration would sharply curtail states’ ability to use those waivers. That means, no matter what the job market looks like, struggling workers would lose food assistance if they’re unable to consistently log 20 hours of work a week.
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Who would be affected?
The term “able-bodied adults without dependents” is at the heart of the new SNAP rule. In theory, this classification is supposed to apply to people without disabilities who are not responsible for children. However, people who have disabilities and/or are caretakers are often caught up in this group. There are two main reasons that happens.
First, the rule’s definition of “able-bodied” only includes disabled people who qualify for Social Security Insurance (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). People who are on waiting lists for SSI or SSDI (it takes 600 days on average to get a hearing), have disabilities or chronic illnesses but don’t receive federal disability benefits, or lack a formal diagnosis are all considered “able-bodied” and thus at risk of losing SNAP regardless of their actual health status.
Second, “adults without dependents” leaves out people who are caretakers but do not claim children on tax filings. People caring for extended family, chosen family, or noncustodial children would all be considered people “without dependents,” regardless of what caregiving responsibilities they shoulder and how that impacts their ability to work outside the home.
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Doesn’t this make sure people who turn to SNAP also work?
Most people who turn to SNAP already work. However, much of the low-wage workforce now has unpredictable, fluctuating schedules and juggles multiple jobs. As a result, if the rule takes effect, many people will lose food assistance simply because they didn’t get enough hours in a given month, even if they were working all of the hours that were available to them.
Many people who do manage to get enough hours at work will still lose their benefits because of the red tape this rule would create. It can be difficult to report your work hours—for example, at least one state requires people to report their work hours online, but the website shuts down after work hours. More than 18,000 people in Arkansas have lost Medicaid since similar work-reporting requirements took effect in that state.
Meanwhile, taking food away may actually make it harder for people to work, as research shows that when people are have access to basics such as adequate nutrition, they’re better able to work and have higher earnings.
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Right now, the proposed rule is posted for public comment. The administration is legally required to read every unique comment submitted before April 2, 2019, in response to its proposed rule, so if you leave a comment at HandsOffSNAP.org, what you say will make a difference.
For more information, and guidance on submitting a comment check out these resources: