BY ALFRED LUBRANO
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER / TNS
WASHINGTON ‒ The Trump administration is proposing a change in how food stamps are distributed to some recipients ‒ a modification that had been rejected by Congress when it voted on the benefits program at the end of 2018.
“This is contrary to congressional intent,” Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., write in a letter being prepared for Sonny Perdue, the secretary of agriculture, whose department oversees food stamps. The letter is circulating among other members of Congress for review.
Perdue said in a statement last week that the rule change would focus on work requirements for non-disabled adults between 18 and 49 with no dependents who receive food stamps, now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
The idea, Perdue said, is to preclude low-income people on SNAP from a “lifelong dependency” on benefits.
Like ‘the wall’
Anti-hunger advocates have denigrated the move as an overreach by the executive branch, with familiar undertones.
“I liken this to the wall,” said Kathy Fisher, policy director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, referencing President Donald Trump’s executive order declaring an emergency that would allow him to shift funds to build a wall at the border with Mexico, circumventing Congress. “The administration wants to change things by fiat rather than follow what Congress has set out.”
The proposal could eliminate SNAP eligibility for 755,000 people, according to the coalition.
Since 1996, people aged 18 to 49 without a child under age 18 have had to work at least 20 hours a week or be in school or job training to receive SNAP benefits. Anyone not following the rule would be limited to three months of benefits within a three-year period.
States, however, have been permitted to waive the time-limit rules in places of high unemployment. This is in recognition of the reality that, although most working-age SNAP participants have jobs, many sometimes fall below 20 working hours a week through no fault of their own, Fisher said.
She added that so many jobs these days are part-time and subject to unstable schedules and fluctuating hours.
The proposed Trump administration rule would take away state flexibility to dispense waivers and “make it much harder for states to serve the target population,” according to the Washington-based FRAC, the Food Research & Action Center, the nation’s leading anti-hunger lobbying group.
The Senate wound up supporting the bill that allowed waivers on an 87-13 vote. In the House, the vote in favor was 369 to 47.
Boxes of food?
Trump has often called for drastically limiting SNAP benefits. At one point last year, his administration suggested replacing half of SNAP benefits with boxes of pre-selected nonperishable food items and no fresh food.
Advocates and food experts said it would have been logistically impossible to send actual food to people, as opposed to SNAP benefits, which are loaded onto cards similar to bank cards.
The federal government will collect public comments on the rule until April 2.