WASHINGTON – The Trump administration and the US Dept. of Agriculture announced new work requirement rules on Dec. 4 for certain people receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps. The rule goes into effect on April 1, 2020.

The rule will move more able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) off of food stamps between the ages of 18 and 49. The rule will not apply to the elderly, the disabled, or pregnant women.

During a media phone call, the USDA said that 688,000 people would lose access to food stamps, which is down from earlier estimates of 750,000 people.

“Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “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 not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand. Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work.”

Under current SNAP requirements, ABAWDs must work or participate in an employment program for at least 20 hours a week to continue to receive benefits for more than three months over a 36-month period.

The new rule eliminates state-wide waivers for varying unemployment rates unless the state qualifies for extended unemployment benefits. A request for a waiver would require full endorsement by the state government.

Now, states that apply under the new rule will be limited to having a minimum six percent unemployment rate or higher to obtain a waiver. The original proposal was for an unemployment rate of seven percent.

The USDA said that in 2016 there were 3.8 million individual ABAWDs on the SNAP rolls, with 2.8 million (or about 74 percent) of them not working.

According to the USDA, the new work rule would save the federal government $5.5 billion over five years.

Brandon Lipps, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services, also said that 74 percent of the ABAWDs are currently not working.

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, chair of the House Agriculture Nutrition, Oversight and Department of Operations Subcommittee, expressed her dissatisfaction for the final rules announcement.

“The decision to finalize a rule jeopardizing the food security of nearly 2 million of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens the week following Thanksgiving, and at the height of the holiday season, reveals this Administration’s callous and cruel intentions,” Fudge said “This is an unacceptable escalation of the Administration’s war on working families, and it comes during a time when too many are forced to stretch already-thin budgets to make ends meet.”

Fudge went onto say that the proposed rule was overwhelmingly rejected after lengthy debate as part of the 2018 farm bill negotiating process.

“Those families and the organizations that fight for them have repeatedly told the Administration, through tens of thousands of public comments, this rule and others USDA intends to issue would cut life-saving nutrition assistance at a time when they need it most,” Fudge continued in her statement. “What’s more, the Administration refuses to take an honest look at the people they are targeting with this rule and what challenges they face that contribute to their hunger.”

Fudge said the USDA has the authority to research whether people affected by the rule are disabled, elderly, veterans or other classifications that may exacerbate the need. However, Fudge said she’s seen no indication the USDA has done that.

“If it had, the Department would discover that many of these SNAP recipients are either attempting to find work or face hardships that prevent them from doing so,” she said.