WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump administration unveiled a final rule Wednesday that will require more food stamp recipients to work in order to receive benefits.
The change will tightening work requirements for food stamps eligibility for able-bodied adults without children, a move that could push almost 700,000 people from the program while saving $5.5 billion over five years, according to CBS News.
The food stamp program, however, already requires non-disabled, working-age adults without dependents to have jobs. They can only receive benefits for three months out of every 36-month period unless they are working or participating in training programs 20 hours a week.
"Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work," said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, citing the low 3.6% national unemployment rate. "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."
In Tennessee, there are more than 900,000 people relying on SNAP benefits. According to DHS, there are approximately 93,000 individuals receiving SNAP statewide that would fall into the category of an able-bodied adult without dependents. Many of these individuals are already meeting the work requirement even if their county is waived.
Currently, states can waive the work requirement for areas where unemployment is at least 10% or there is an insufficient number of jobs, as defined by the Department of Labor.
The new rule would make it harder for states to receive those waivers by tightening the definition of areas where there are insufficient jobs, narrowing the geographic areas of waivers and limiting their duration, among other provisions.
Tennessee currently has just 7 counties that remain under the waiver for Able-Bodied Adults Without Disabilities (ABAWD). DHS says this waiver removes the requirement for ABAWD SNAP recipients to work at least 20 hours per week, participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 20 hours per week, or participate in an approved workfare/volunteer program at least 20 hours per week.
These waiver counties are distressed based on criteria including their poverty rate, labor surplus, and unemployment rate. They include Bledsoe, Hancock, Jackson, Lake, Lauderdale, McNairy and Scott counties.
Under the plan, states can only issue waivers if a city or county has an unemployment rate of 6% or higher. The waivers will be good for one year and will require the governor to support the request.
"It is a concerned and we could face issues individuals who are struggling to find a job, who can’t get enough will face issues with accessing food," said Signe Anderson, nutrition director with the Tennessee Justice Center.
Anderson says, the rule will also harm the economy, grocery retailers, agriculture producer and communities by reducing the SNAP dollars available to spur local economic activity.
"It’s a step backwards in our fight against hunger in Tennessee and we actually think folks can be harm especially if there were to be another economic downturn, so we’re concerned."
A spokesperson says the state agency is currently researching the future impact and potential next steps based on the final rule released by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
The rule is slated to take effect on April 1, 2020 unless Congress or the courts act to stop or delay.