The proposal could affect 775,000 able-bodied welfare recipients without children who live in areas where unemployment is 10 percent or higher. Current requirements say adults without dependents must work to collect food stamps for more than three months in a three-year period. The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows states to waive the requirement in areas where the unemployment rate is at least 20 percent greater than the national rate, which is 3.7 percent.
The USDA’s new proposal would limit the waiver to areas where unemployment exceeds 7 percent, essentially raising the benchmark for areas where it’s tougher to find work.
The goal is to restore dignity to a large segment of the population, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. It could also save taxpayers $15 billion a year over 10 years.
“This is unacceptable to most Americans and belies common sense, particularly when employment opportunities are as plentiful as they currently are,” Perdue said.
New welfare requirements were originally in the House of Representatives version of the farm bill but the Senate version didn’t include them. The $870 million farm bill does include funding for the food stamp program, known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
“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, Purdue said.
He added the proposed rule “restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, which it’s also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program.”
Democrats oppose the plan and question whether President Donald Trump can use his executive powers to authorize it.
“Congress writes laws, and the administration is required to write rules based on the law,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the top ranking Democrat on the Senate agriculture committee. “Administrative changes should not be driven by ideology. I do not support unilateral and unjustified changes that would take food away from families.”
The proposed rules would require states to seek waivers every year rather than every two years.
The tougher eligibility requirements could see more people rushing to state health services offices to help them get training for jobs.
“Even with as robust a program as we have — including a partnership with every community college in the state” it would be “really hard” for Washington state to expand its job training efforts without more funding.
House Republicans were frustrated that their welfare requirements didn’t make it into final bill and support Trump’s new proposal.
“I applaud the proposed rule and proudly stand with the Trump administration in demonstrating the importance of state accountability and recipient success,” said Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, chair of the House agriculture committee.
The problem for many low-income workers is they can’t find a good job with steady hours, experts say.
“In low-wage jobs, there is significant churn week-to-week, month-to-month, in hours,” said Rachel West, director of poverty research at the Center for American Progress. “So many people cannot control their hours in today’s labor market.”