By Equal Voice Action | December 9, 2019
On December 4, 2019, the Trump administration issued a cruel and misguided new rule for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) that will cut vital food assistance from nearly 700,000 poor Americans.
Equal Voice Action strongly denounces this rule change, one of several major cuts to SNAP put forth by the Trump administration that, together, will cut food assistance from millions of Americans.
Rooted in false narratives about America’s poor, this new SNAP rule does nothing to actually help struggling individuals and families work and make ends meet. Instead, it deprives people of the essential resources they need to work and survive in today’s deeply unequal economy.
Scheduled to take effect on April 1, 2020, the new rule implements stricter work requirements for recipients of SNAP benefits who are between the ages of 18 and 49, have no children, and are not disabled.
People in this group are “among the poorest of the poor,” with an average income of just 18% of the poverty line and average monthly SNAP benefits of $165. For most people in this group, SNAP food assistance is the only public benefit they qualify for, since they are not severely disabled, elderly, or raising young children.
Studies show most working-age, non-disabled SNAP recipients are already working – typically in unstable, low-wage jobs with part-time, seasonal, or irregular hours and high turnover. They turn to SNAP as a vital support to make ends meet while struggling with low paychecks or transitioning between jobs in today’s gig economy.
Under current SNAP rules, people in this category cannot receive more than three months of SNAP benefits over the course of a three-year period unless they can show that they are working (or in a work training program) for 20 hours per week. But states have long had the right to waive this requirement for areas where unemployment is higher and there are not enough jobs to go around. These waivers have been particularly vital for those working but struggling to secure a consistent 20 hours per week.
In a major blow to some of SNAP’s poorest recipients, the new rule will greatly restrict the ability of states to waive the work requirements, allowing them to do so only after prolonged periods of significantly higher unemployment rates. The result: hundreds of thousands of Americans who rely on food stamps to get by will no longer be eligible. And the program as a whole will be much less responsive to people’s needs amid future periods of rising unemployment.
In announcing the new rule, Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue claimed that the rule aimed to eliminate SNAP as a “way of life” and “restore the dignity of work” to those who rely on its benefits. This deeply false and demeaning narrative ignores the reality of poor and low-income families in America, and the rule itself will only make it harder for struggling individuals to find and keep work.
There is no evidence that SNAP keeps people from working. Instead, studies show that expanded access to SNAP benefits can actually boost workforce participation. On the other hand, the added time and paperwork involved in meeting work requirements can actually cause fully eligible recipients to lose their public benefits.
This attack on SNAP showcases yet again how false but persistent narratives about poverty are among the biggest challenges America’s poor and low-income families face. The stereotypes elected officials use to justify and present these policy changes do not reflect the lived experiences of poor people, yet they continue to shape our laws and programs.
Public benefits like SNAP alleviate – rather than cause – complex challenges like unemployment and economic insecurity. It shouldn’t need to be said that people need food and other essential resources made possible by SNAP benefits in order to live and work.
When elected officials speak to public benefits programs as a “way of life,” they are really speaking to our country’s deeply unfair economic system, which exploits and excludes so many, including millions of working poor.
Poor and low-income families need equal access to good jobs that pay a living wage and enable them to not only get by but thrive. A higher minimum wage, fair scheduling standards, subsidized child care, more robust protections from racial and gender discrimination – these and other policy changes are what our families need for “restoring dignity” to our labor markets.
Depriving people of the food assistance that research shows to reduce poverty will only add to their struggles, and will only increase the depth and extent of poverty in our country.
For more information about SNAP and other pending cuts to this vital food assistance program, see these resources: