The Public Health Law Watch initiative identifies potential legislative and regulatory changes that have an impact to harm public health but have yet to break into the mainstream conversation, identifies ways to engage on these issues, and provides legal analysis and commentary.

New SNAP rule further limits food benefits for unemployed and underemployed people

New SNAP rule further limits food benefits for unemployed and underemployed people

By Faith Khalik

On February 1, 2019, the USDA published its proposed rule to further limit food benefits for unemployed and underemployed people.

Typically, an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) can receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for only 3 months every 3 years, unless they are working, volunteering, or in job training at least 80 hours per month.

States can receive waivers to extend SNAP eligibility for ABAWDs living in areas with high unemployment rates, or with a “lack of sufficient jobs.” Currently, an area qualifies as having a “lack of sufficient jobs” if the unemployment rate is at least 20% higher than the national average. States can combine contiguous areas together and use the average to qualify for a waiver.

The proposed rule creates stricter standards for what constitutes an area having “lack of sufficient jobs,” with the goal of reducing the number of ABAWDs able to receive SNAP waivers. It prohibits waivers for areas with unemployment below 7% and also limits states’ flexibility to combine areas.

Currently, 56% of ABAWDs are subject to the 3 month limit. With the 7% floor in place, 89% of ABAWDs would need to find sufficient work or lose their benefits.

According to the USDA, the rule would take SNAP benefits away from 755,000 people. However, that number assumes the rule would boost work compliance rates from 26% to 33%. If work rates stayed the same, 850,000 people would lose food stamps.

Madison Hardee, a policy analyst and attorney at CLASP, is concerned about the disproportionate effect the rule will have on communities of color. Hardee says discrimination and structural barriers to employment drive higher rates of food insecurity in Black and Latino households. “The most effective way to help people thrive is by addressing existing disparities, not reducing waivers,” she said.

The USDA admits the rule has the potential to harm minority groups, but has not yet stated any mitigation strategies to lessen the impact.

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PHLW hosts comment writing party at Northeastern Law

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