The Trump administration is tightening work requirements for the federal food stamp program in a move that would slash benefits for hundreds of thousands of people.
Carole Johnson, New Jersey's human services commissioner, said the rule takes away the flexibility that states now have to help residents in need beyond the three-month limit under what is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
"States are seeking waivers for wide swaths of their population [s], and millions of people who could work are continuing to receive SNAP benefits", he told reporters. The agency is still working on the latter two proposals.
All together, the proposed regulations would have decreased the number of people on food stamps by 3.7 million had they been implemented a year ago, according to an Urban Institute report issued last month.
The program feeds more than 36 million Americans. In addition to restricting time limit waivers, the USDA has proposed eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility, a measure that allows recipients of certain non-cash public benefits to automatically qualify for food stamps, and changing how utility costs are factored into benefit calculations. It wasn't immediately clear why the final rule is expected to affect fewer people.More news: Top House Democrat wants Mueller findings in impeachment articles against Trump
The final rule is the administration's latest initiative to impose work requirements in government assistance programs.
The administration has sought to tighten requirements for food stamps without congressional approval after the US Congress blocked a Trump-backed effort to pass new restrictions through the Farm Bill past year.
There were 2.9 million of these recipients in 2018 and almost 74% of them were not employed, according to the agency. States are now allowed to apply for waivers of the time limit, including areas with unemployment rates as low as 2.5%.
The new rule would make it harder for states to receive those waivers by tightening the definition of areas where there are insufficient jobs, narrowing the geographic areas of waivers and limiting their duration, among other provisions.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue said the new rules were created to move more people who are able to work into jobs in a growing economy. "This is about restoring the original intent of food stamps ... moving more able-bodied Americans to self sufficiency".More news: Adam Sandler remembers his reaction to being fired from SNL
Officials say that about 7 percent of the individuals on SNAP are considered able-bodied adults without dependents (ABWDs) and that the rule will save the government $5.5 billion over five years.
Critics lashed out at the administration, saying it would leave more struggling Americans hungry.
Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the rule would disproportionately affect minorities.
"Denying them basic food and nutrition is not the route that a fair and compassionate administration of either party should take", he said in a statement.More news: 'Energised' Greta Thunberg arrives in Lisbon ahead of COP 25 climate summit
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