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Trump's idea for tougher work requirements for food stamp recipients worries anti-hunger advocates

The Trump administration is looking for ways to get more people off of food stamps. (Ljupco/Getty Images)

Anti-hunger advocates said they plan to resist the Trump administration's latest announced efforts to get people off food stamps, The Hill reported. They have said President Donald Trump's plans would boot thousands of unemployed people off the program.

In his 2018 budget, Trump proposed limiting the number of state waivers for the work requirement for receiving aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the Hill reported. Limiting the number of waivers would force people back into the workforce, supporters of the move say.

“We can totally understand in a bad economy or in certain isolated cases someone might need an exception … however, today we have 6 million open jobs, we’re approaching all-time low unemployment and employers are having a hard time filling jobs,” Sam Adolphsen, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, told The Hill. “Now is not the time to be waiving the work requirement.”

Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) introduced legislation last March that would eliminate work requirement waivers. He told The Hill that SNAP now discourages people from working.

“Particularly in today’s economy, the idea that you should have to work to get food stamps seems to be pretty much common sense,” he said.

Grothman said removing people from the program is not a funding issue.

“To me it’s more of a moral thing,” he said. “We don’t want to encourage people to behave improperly.”

Currently, adults ages 18 to 49 who are not disabled or raising minor children cannot receive aid through SNAP for more than three months over a three-year period. To keep their benefits, these adults must work at least 20 hours a week, participate in a state work-training program, or volunteer.

How many people receive SNAP?

According to the Department of Agriculture approximately 3.8 million of the 42 million people receiving SNAP benefits are able-bodied adults without dependents.

States can apply for a federal waiver for the work requirement, if jobs are lacking in the area. But some officials believe the waivers being abused. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said too many states are seeking the waivers. As a result, they are “abdicating their responsibility to move participants to self-sufficiency.”

The USDA reportedly plans to change waiver eligibility requirements. In a statement last month, Perdue said: “Past decisions may have been the easy short-term choice, but USDA policies must change if they contribute to a long-term failure for many SNAP participants and their families."

Twenty-eight states have waivers for certain areas, while the District of of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have full waivers now, according to the USDA website. To qualify, states must have an area with an average 12-month unemployment rate of more than 10 percent, or show there are not enough available jobs.

What do anti-hunger advocates say?

Anti-hunger advocates maintain that it’s a myth that adults capable of working are simply freeloading off of the government.

“No one is living comfortably on this,” Josh Protas, vice president of public policy at Mazon, told The Hill.

Most adults want to work but face employment barriers such as a lack of education or a criminal record, according to anti-hunger advocates. Others work at low-wage jobs but cannot get the minimum of 20 hours a week to qualify for assistance.

The average monthly benefit for an able-bodied adult without dependents is $163, according to the USDA.

Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said states are not required to offer a job or training SNAP recipients. Also, many don’t receive enough funding to do so.

Last April, Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) offered a bill to strengthen the food stamp program and exempt able-bodied adults without dependents from the work requirement if their state can’t provide them with a slot in a SNAP employment or training program. But the measure is unlikely to get enough support from Republicans to pass the House, since the GOP has made work requirements for SNAP a policy priority.

In a statement to The Hill, a USDA spokesperson said the agency’s goal is to move individuals from SNAP back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty.

“[P]ublic input is an important part of finding the best approaches, and USDA will use the information gathered to consider options, including potential rule-making, to help able-bodied SNAP participants move out of poverty in a manner that is consistent with the structure and intent of the program,” the spokesperson said.

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