Nation & World

USDA tightens food stamp work rule

Vast majority of SNAP beneficiaries not affected

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue arrives in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on May 23, 2019. CREDIT: Washingt
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue arrives in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on May 23, 2019. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

Some 688,000 food stamp recipients across the nation will have to find work by April or risk losing benefits as the Trump administration issues a rule making it harder for states to get exemptions from work requirements.

Those affected are able-bodied adults under 50 without children or other dependents, who represent about 8 percent of the 36 million people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

The vast majority of SNAP participants — children, the elderly and people with disabilities — are not affected.

Effective April 1, many of those able-bodied recipients will be limited to three months of food aid over a three-year period unless they are working, in job training or participating in volunteer opportunities at least 80 hours a month.

The work requirements have existed since the mid-1990s, but many states receive waivers for counties with higher unemployment rates or where jobs are scarce.

Iowa, with one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, does not have such a waiver, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP.

About 335,000 Iowans overall rely on SNAP.

Earlier this year, state Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, ran several bills that would have more strictly regulated SNAP, which in Iowa is called simply the Food Assistance program.

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One bill would have required any Iowan on the program to be current on child support payments. Another aimed to guide unemployed SNAP recipients with school-age children to job programs.

“I want to applaud President Trump for once again hearing the frustration of the American people and addressing it,” he said Wednesday. “I think this is a long time coming.”

The bills passed the Iowa Senate but not the Iowa House. Schultz said he is talking now to House members about taking them up in the session starting January.

“This works very well and fits right into our effort to pass an eligibility and verification bill that would use private vendors with the ability to check the recipient list and make sure that the people who are receiving truly are eligible.” he said. “So that’s an important part.

The new federal rule makes it more difficult for states to get waivers to the requirements by forbidding them for areas where the unemployment rate has been lower than 6 percent over a 24-month period. Iowa’s rate is 2.6 percent.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said Wednesday the new rule “restores the system to what Congress intended.”

But social service agencies say those who don’t have a job have a reason for it, such as little education and skills, a criminal background that makes it tough to get hired, or an undiagnosed disability. Others do work but can’t get enough hours, which has become a growing problem as more jobs become temporary or part-time.

Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.

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