Trump Administration Finalizes Rule Tightening Work Requirements for SNAP Benefits, Up to 750,000 Expected to be Impacted

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration issued a final rule tightening Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) processes in which states can waive a requirement that able-bodied adults without children work at least 20 hours per week. Under current law, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) are individuals 18 to 49 who are not elderly, women who are pregnant, or someone with a disability. ABAWDs are required to work at least 20 hours per week or be in a job training program if they receive SNAP benefits for more than three months in a three-year period. Current regulations allow states to waive this requirement for up to two years in areas with specified high unemployment rates.

Recall, the Trump Administration announced its intent last year to require additional work requirements to receive SNAP benefits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted a public comment period earlier this year and more than 140,000 comments were submitted, with the overwhelmingly majority of them in opposition to the proposed rule.

According to a USDA Fact Sheet on the final rule, the Administration’s actions will apply “a common-sense approach to promoting work” by setting clear expectations about program participation, recognizing dynamic on-the-ground employment conditions, and strengthening and standardizing criteria for waiver approval.

In announcing the final rule, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue remarked, “Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American Dream. We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but now allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.” The USDA contends that the economy has improved under the Trump Administration and assistance to unemployed, able-bodied adults is no longer necessary in such a strong job market.

Economic experts have forecasted that the final rule may disqualify up to 750,000 U.S. residents from receiving SNAP benefits. Anti-poverty advocates widely denounced the Trump Administration’s final rule, noting that the rule would cause serious harm to individuals and working families, particularly those who are low-income and unable to find steady work. Many members of Congress also denounced the final rule, noting that Republicans and Democrats overwhelming rejected such a proposal in the U.S. Farm Bill that was passed and signed into law in December 2018.

Wednesday’s final rule is part of a broader suite of regulatory efforts to attempt to scale back nutrition assistance programs. The Trump Administration has also proposed rules to close a loophole that allows families with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) to receive SNAP benefits, prevent households with more than $2,250 in assets or $3,500 in households with a disabled adult from receiving SNAP benefits, and cut $4.5 billion from SNAP over five years by modifying eligibility formulas. All combined, studies have suggested the proposed rules would impact up to four million U.S. residents receiving nutrition assistance and nearly one million school children receiving free or reduced price school meals.

Wednesday’s SNAP ABAWD final rule is available here.