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President Trump has officially signed the Farm Bill into law, which sets American food policy for the next five years. Republicans’ cuts to food stamps didn’t pass muster, so Trump is going around the legislative process to cut food stamps — just days before Christmas.

Originally, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) didn’t want to pass a Farm Bill without making steep cuts to food stamps by imposing mandatory work requirements — meaning someone on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) would have to show proof that they’re working a certain number of hours a week in order to qualify for food assistance.

Ryan’s Farm Bill only passed with two votes in the Republican-controlled House, and didn’t make it past the senate. And the proposed cuts to SNAP are noticeably absent from the $867 billion Farm Bill that Trump signed Thursday afternoon. So to get around the Farm Bill, the Trump administration’s Department of Agriculture implemented new regulations making it harder for state governments to waive work requirements.

According to NPR, states now face new obstacles waiving those work requirements in areas where unemployment is uncharacteristically high (roughly 20 percentage points above the national average). And as Politico reported, there are currently waivers in 36 states. The USDA’s new rule is estimated to kick 755,000 Americans off of food stamps.

The USDA is calling for those waivers to be limited to one year, down from up to two years states can currently request. It also wants to slash states’ ability to “bank” waivers for future years and is pushing to restrict waivers under certain criteria where local unemployment is around 7 percent.

In all, the proposed rule could reduce areas that qualify for waivers by roughly 75 percent, according to USDA officials.

“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a public statement. “As we make benefits available to those who truly need them, we must also encourage participants to take proactive steps toward self-sufficiency.”

Of course, as Grit Post has previously reported, many food stamp recipients are already employed. And low-wage workers have jobs that don’t have reliable hours, meaning there would likely be some weeks in which someone depending on food stamps is unable to meet required minimum work hours due to unpredictable scheduling. Current law is already fairly strict on unemployed food stamp recipients without dependents, who are required to find work within 90 days or else risk losing nutrition assistance. And those adults have to be working at least 20 hours a week.

The underlying suggestion behind the GOP’s push for SNAP work requirements is that safety nets should only be for those working to improve their situations, giving the impression that the majority of SNAP recipients are unemployed and that SNAP discourages poor Americans from working.

However, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed SNAP data and found that the number of Americans on SNAP who are already employed has been steadily increasing year-over-year. The percentage of SNAP households that have monthly earnings has actually gone up by more than a third over the past 25 years.

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Given all of this data, it’s hard to see why the GOP is pushing for stricter work requirements than are already in current law. Annie Lowery argued in The Atlantic that harsh work requirements are simply another mechanism used to punish the poor for their poverty.

“Many lower-income Americans face multiple arduous barriers to getting a job. They might have an undiagnosed disability, substance-use or mental-health issues, or a medical condition. They might struggle to find child care, or live in a remote area where work is hard to come by and transportation is expensive,” Lowrey wrote. “[T]he Trump administration has not offered to pair its punitive measure with increased funds for job training or government-funded jobs—nor are states generous in providing such services to snap participants.”

And, as the Center for American Progress’ Rebecca Vallas tweeted in a thread earlier Thursday, the harsh new food stamp work requirements could actually end up impeding worker productivity, as malnourishment tends to hurt workers’ earnings and ability to find work.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) accused Trump administration’s pushing of work requirements as being “driven by ideology.”

“This regulation blatantly ignores the bipartisan Farm Bill that the president is signing today and disregards over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions,” Stabenow stated. “I do not support unilateral and unjustified changes that would take food away from families.”

 

Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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