On December 4th, the Trump Administration published its final rule on time limits for SNAP participation. This final rule will cut off basic assistance for nearly 700,000 individuals, many of whom are struggling to find steady work and live below 18% of the federal poverty line. This rule affects SNAP participants ages 18 through 49, who are not raising children in their homes, and limits them to just 3 months of benefits every 3 years unless they are employed 20 hours a week or participating in a specific work program. The rule goes into effect April 1, 2020.
We strongly oppose the rule that would expose even more people to the arbitrary time limit by limiting state flexibility regarding area waivers and individual exemptions. By the Administration’s own calculations, the final rule would take food away from 700,000 low-income Americans, cutting food benefits by $15 billion over ten years. The Administration does not estimate any improvements in health or employment among the affected population.
The rule would make it harder for areas with elevated unemployment rates to qualify for waivers by adding a 7 percent unemployment rate floor as a condition. However, many areas of the state have lower than 7 percent unemployment but individuals still struggle to find work due to lack of transportation, health limitations, felony records, or other significant barriers. Additionally, a new research brief by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University1 finds that “the labor market conditions faced by those most likely to be subject to work requirements are substantially worse than the 7-percent floor. The local employment prospects for those potentially affected by this new rule vary widely among subgroups at higher risk, including women, non-white individuals, and those with a high-school education or less. Many of those affected may be unable to find adequate work to meet the rule’s new work requirements.”
The rule makes it harder for states to obtain and implement area waivers by dropping statewide waivers except when a state triggers extended benefits under Unemployment Insurance. This change puts our state and nation at risk of being unable to adequately respond during another economic recession. It also limits the economic factors considered in assessing an area’s eligibility for a waiver (e.g., by no longer allowing employment to population ratios that demonstrate economic weakness to qualify areas for waivers). It undermines efficient state implementation of area waivers by limiting their duration to 12 months and delaying their start dates until after USDA processes the request. In addition, the rule removes states’ ability to use exemptions accumulated prior to the rule’s implementation as well limit the time states’ have to use exemptions they receive in the future.
The Department provided little analysis to explain its conclusions about the impacts the changes would have on individuals and population groups, nor of realistic plans to avert harm from those changes. USDA merely asserted its expectation that two-thirds of those individuals made newly subject to the time limit “would not meet the requirements for failure to engage meaningfully in work or work training.” Because of the deficiencies in reasoning and analysis, the final rule fails to answer basic questions related to the impact of the change and the people whom this rule affects, and so does not contain the information and data necessary to fully evaluate the rule or to comment on key aspects on the Department’s justification for the rule.
Moreover, while the Department concedes that the changes “have the potential for disparately impacting certain protected groups due to factors affecting rates of employment of these groups, [it] find[s] that implementation of mitigation strategies and monitoring by the Civil Rights Division of FNS will lessen these impacts.” But no explanation of the mitigation strategies and monitoring is provided, so there is no opportunity for us to comment on whether the acknowledged disparate impact will in fact be mitigated.
Lastly, this rule seeks to end run Congress, which just concluded an extensive review and reauthorization of SNAP in the 2018 Farm Bill and did not make the changes proposed.
We strongly oppose the final rule that would expose even more people to the arbitrary SNAP time limit, increasing hunger and poverty in Montana and across the United States.
Gayle Carlson, CEO, Montana Food Bank Network
December 9, 2019
1 Center on Poverty and Social Policy, Columbia University, Poverty and Social Policy Brief, Limiting States’ Ability to Waive Federal SNAP Work Requirements: A Closer Look at the Potential Implications; https://www.povertycenter.columbia.edu/news-internal/2019/3/26/potential-implications-of-limiting-states-ability-to-waive-federal-work-requirements