- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finalized a rule that tightens work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents to participate — a move that would drop nearly 700,000 individuals from the program, according to the agency.
- Under the current law, SNAP recipients who are able-bodied adults without dependents are limited to three months of benefits in a three-year period, unless they are working 80 hours a month, volunteering or enrolled in training or education. States and counties with unemployment rates as low as 2.5%, however, have been able to waive that requirement. The new rule, set to go into effect in April 2020, would set the threshold for exemption for counties at 6% unemployment.
- U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the rule honors the original intent of the SNAP program and lays the groundwork for able-bodied Americans to re-enter the workforce amid a strong economy that has more job openings than there are people to fill them.
According to the USDA, 36 million Americans are receiving SNAP benefits in 2019 while the unemployment rate is at 3.6%. The final rule applies to adults aged 18 to 49. It does not apply to children and their parents, people over 50 years old, pregnant women or disabled individuals.
The ruling also tightens requirements for states to apply for a waiver to keep recipients enrolled in the program.
Opponents of the rule say it takes benefits away from people who depend on them. During the proposal period, Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, noted many SNAP recipients are working low-wage jobs or are between jobs.
"For those already facing difficult life circumstances, this rule would exacerbate rather than alleviate those circumstances. In short, it will do significant harm to those already hurting," Besser said in a statement of opposition.
SNAP benefits are widely accepted among grocers, convenience stores, farmers markets and discount stores. Under a two-year USDA pilot program, SNAP is also accepted for online grocery purchases at Amazon, Walmart and ShopRite in participating locations. Walmart recently made its pickup orders eligible for SNAP purchases.
In New York, The Fund for Public Health in New York City is partnering with local grocer Fine Fare and technology company STCR to incentivize produce purchases among SNAP recipients. According to a press release sent to Grocery Dive, SNAP recipients who use their benefits to buy eligible produce and beans will receive an additional dollar for each dollar spent to buy more produce, allowing up to $50 more in produce per day. The USDA has approved the funding for the program.
In July, the USDA proposed an additional change to close a loophole in the SNAP program that allowed states to bypass important eligibility guidelines. About 3 million SNAP recipients would lose benefits under the proposed change.