The Trump administration published a rule today to cut SNAP benefits (food stamps) for hundreds of thousands of people who are out of work or under-employed. The government refers to these individuals as “able-bodied adults without dependents” or “ABAWDs.” The new rule circumvents the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress last December that rejected changes to SNAP ABAWD policy, a move which violates administrative law.
Western Center on Law & Poverty and our allies plan to fight the rule and protect our clients from the short and long-term harm of hunger that will result from its implementation.
Under existing law and guidance, people the government deems “ABAWDs” can only access food benefits for three months in a 36-month time period, but states have been given flexibility to waive the three-month time limit in counties and areas with insufficient jobs. The rule published by the Trump administration today removes these important protections which have been in place for over 20 years.
We are still analyzing the final rule, which is significantly different than the proposed rule, but we believe it will still result in unprecedented cuts to the country’s most successful anti-hunger program. There are approximately 700,000 Californians classified as ABAWDs who could be impacted by the rule. The USDA estimates the rule will cut over $5 billion in SNAP benefits to low-income Americans over the next five years.
The administration asserts that the rule will encourage people to work, but that notion is not grounded in fact. As Western Center advocates and many other experts have pointed out on numerous occasions, hunger does not make anyone productive. The physical and psychological toll of hunger is not a catalyst for work — it has the opposite effect. And while the USDA claims the rule will incentivize employment, it simultaneously targets people with well-documented barriers to work by undermining state flexibility to offer exemptions and waivers to the rule.
The Trump administration has not produced evidence to support this rule change, and it has not done due diligence to prove it will have the effect it claims. The administration will also try to divert attention away from SNAP cuts by highlighting the SNAP Employment and Training program for people who are out of work or underemployed; this is dishonest because people cut from SNAP can’t benefit equally from these services, and the USDA has not funded the program to serve even half of those who need it.
This is a blatant and alarming attempt to undermine Congress and ignore the policy preference of a broad, bipartisan swath of Americans, all to implement a cruel rule with dubious intentions. The administration suggests the change will restore the “dignity of work,” but there is nothing dignified about going to a job interview hungry, and nothing about the experience of hunger makes someone more employable.
Though the rule was published today, it does not go into effect until spring 2020, and once efforts to prevent its implementation are exhausted. This means that for now, impacted individuals should continue using benefits as normal.
It’s clear that this rule and other attempts by the administration to cut SNAP benefits were created by people who have never experienced the indignity of hunger. The integrity of the United States rests on the fundamental question of whether a country as wealthy as ours should allow people to go hungry, and if doing so helps them or our democracy be better. We firmly believe the answer is no.
Courtney McKinney, Director of Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Bartholow, Policy Advocate, email@example.com