USDA To Stakeholders: We Want To Change Food-Stamp Work Requirements

Feb 22, 2018

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it wants feedback on how to get a certain segment of Americans out of poverty and off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

Starting Friday, the public — as well as states and other stakeholders — will have 45 days to comment about possible changes to SNAP benefits for recipients who are between the ages of 18 to 49 and don’t have dependents. They make up about 9 percent of the SNAP recipients, the USDA says.

“The (Trump) administration does hope to come forward with a rule that helps move the conversation forward on this population that folks have been talking about for a number of years,” Brandon Lipps, the acting deputy undersecretary for the USDA’s Food Nutrition and Consumer Service agency, said Thursday. “But we want to make sure that we have all the best information available from everyone out there before we do that.”

Currently, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) can get SNAP benefits for three months over a three-year period.

Some regions of Colorado, Illinois and North Dakota have waivers, meaning some adults don’t have to follow the federal time limit of working or being involved in education and training activities for 80 hours a month or being in a “workfare program.” The rest of the states in the Harvest coverage area — Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas — don’t have waivers.

The majority of SNAP recipients that receive benefits per capita are from rural areas, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

Trump’s proposed budget, which came out last week, also suggested the USDA start doling out a “Harvest Box” that would account for about half of a SNAP allotment for households who get $90 or more in benefits (about 80 percent of SNAP recipients). The foods to be provided would be American-grown and shelf-stable — things like cereal, pasta, canned meats and vegetables — though the USDA didn’t specify how the billions of dollars worth of food would be distributed.

Critics have suggested the USDA idea would take away people’s ability to choose what they want to eat, not take into account people with food allergies or sensitivities and pose challenges when it comes to not knowing how to cook what’s provided.

But Lipps said Thursday:  “A number of recipients will be excited what they receive,” and that the Harvest Box is a “great opportunity to be responsible to the taxpayer.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said late last year that he wanted to allow states more flexibility in how to dole out SNAP benefits, including testing programs that don’t increase the cost of the program and promote job training.

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