Nearly 2,000 Allegheny County Residents Could Lose Access To Food Stamps Under New USDA Rule

Dec 17, 2019

More than 1,800 low-income Allegheny County residents could lose access to food assistance under a new Trump administration rule that tightens work requirements for able-bodied adults without kids. 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) currently limits adults to three months of food stamps within a three-year period, unless they work 20 hours a week. Pennsylvania and many other states have been able to waive those requirements in places with high unemployment rates. But the new Trump administration rule, announced this month, makes it harder for states to get those waivers. 

“If the rule takes effect in April as planned, people in that category – able-bodied, without dependents, between 18-49 – will be subject to time limits,” said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, explained on WESA’s The Confluence. “They will be kicked off of food stamps unless they can prove that they work 80 hours a month.”

 

Regal said the average individual receives about $120 a month through the program.

 

The Trump Administration said the changes restored food stamps rules “to what Congress intended: assistance through difficult times, not a way of life.”

 

“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream. We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” said Sonny Perdue, the United States Secretary of Agriculture. “Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work. This rule lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them.”

 

The work-requirement rule has been in effect for roughly two decades. But states have been able to waive the rule in economically distressed areas. And due to Pennsylvania’s poor economic conditions after the 2008 recession, much of the state was exempted from the time-limit requirement. The new Trump Administration rule, however, limits the ability of states to receive such exemptions, in part by allowing them only in areas where unemployment is 6 percent or higher.

 

“[The new rule] supposedly saves money,” Regal said. “But taxpayers will spend a lot more at the state level making every Department of Human Services caseworker go through the paperwork about whether everybody is able-bodied or not, and whether people are working 80 hours a month or 79 hours a month. Because if you work 80 [hours] you stay on food stamps and if you work 79 you’re kicked off of food stamps.”

 

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services expects the change will affect SNAP benefits for more than 92,000 people in the state.

 

“Instead of modernizing and making SNAP more accessible for people who need it, the Trump administration is enacting draconian rule changes that take away a state’s ability to meet the needs of its own citizens,” said Pennsylvania DHS Secretary Teresa Miller in a statement. Gov. Tom Wolf, she said, "is vehemently opposed to any and all attacks on this vital program, and we will always be committed to protecting SNAP and supporting the people who need it.”

 

The rule is set to take effect in April of next year.