Trump administration moves to tighten work requirements for food stamps

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill. The Trump administration is setting out to accomplish what this year's farm bill didn't: Tighten work requirements for Americans who receive federal food assistance. 

Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a new rule Thursday that would require more people to work in order to receive federal food assistance benefits.

The rule, proposed at the direction of President Donald Trump, would limit the ability states have to waive work requirements for certain adults in areas with high unemployment rates, officials said.

Under the current rules, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who have no dependents, known as ABAWDs, can get benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, for only three months if they fail to work at least 20 hours each week. States can waive that requirement in areas with unemployment rates above 10 percent or where unemployment is 20 percent or more above the national average.

According to USDA officials, nearly half of ABAWDs who receive assistance through SNAP live in areas that are under a waiver.

Brandon Lipps, administrator of USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, told reporters Thursday that the proposed rule is expected to save an estimated $15 billion over 10 years, Politico reported.

The rule proposed Thursday would allow states to waive the work requirement only in areas that have unemployment rates of 7 percent or higher. The waivers would require a governor's endorsement and would be good for only one year, as opposed to a maximum of two years under current rules, according to NPR.

"This restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, while it's also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the (SNAP) program," Perdue said Thursday, NPR reported.

The move comes just weeks after lawmakers passed a $400 billion farm bill that reauthorized agriculture and conservation programs while leaving the SNAP virtually untouched.

Passage of the farm bill followed months of tense negotiations over House efforts to significantly tighten work requirements and the Senate's refusal to accept the provisions.

The Trump administration's effort, while celebrated by some conservatives, has been met with criticism from advocates who say tightening restrictions will result in more vulnerable Americans, including children, going hungry.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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