WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is pursuing a series of policies that could knock nearly 290,000 Pennsylvanians off food stamp benefits.
The administration this week finalized one of three controversial policies that aim to limit nationwide eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The administration has portrayed the effort as a push to boost self-sufficiency, but critics have labeled it a cruel attack on an important anti-hunger program.
“Instead of combating food insecurity for millions, connecting workers to good-paying jobs or addressing income inequality, the administration is inflicting their draconian rule on millions of Americans across the nation who face the highest barriers to employment and economic stability,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule would tighten food stamp eligibility requirements by limiting states’ ability to grant waivers that extend benefits in areas with high unemployment. The administration estimates that about 688,000 people nationwide will lose access to nutrition benefits under the new regulation.
The final rule could impact about 73,200 Pennsylvanians, according to an analysis of the proposed rules by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Combined, the administration’s three SNAP policies are estimated to result in about 288,500 Pennsylvanians (and a total of 3.7 million people nationwide) losing access to food stamps, according to the Urban Institute.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called the regulation finalized this week an effort to “move more able-bodied” food stamp recipients “towards self-sufficiency” and into employment. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” Perdue said in a statement.
But Pennsylvania Democrats and other critics have assailed Trump’s policies.
“For President Trump, SNAP might be just another unimportant line item in the budget,” U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-18th District, wrote on Twitter. “For me, it’s a program that has helped my neighbors to get on their feet when times get tough.”
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, wrote on Twitter, “The truth is many SNAP recipients are either trying to find work or face hardships that prevent them from doing so. The Grinches in the Trump-Pence Administration would rather demonize them than help them.”
In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has also pushed back against the White House’s cuts.
“These proposed changes to SNAP will only increase hunger and food insecurity across Pennsylvania and will disproportionately impact working families, people with disabilities and seniors, Teresa Miller, secretary of the state Department of Human Services said this week. “This rule would force families who rely on SNAP to choose between putting food on their table or other necessities such as heating their home or paying for medical costs.”
Federal law limits the time frame for the receipt of SNAP benefits by “able-bodied” adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who don’t have dependents or a disability. They can receive benefits for three months in a 36-month period unless they meet certain work requirements, according to the USDA.
States are allowed to waive those limits in areas where there’s high unemployment or sufficient jobs aren’t available, but the Trump administration said that states have “taken advantage of” weaknesses in the current regulations to request waivers in areas where it’s “questionable” whether there’s indeed a lack of sufficient employment.
“SNAP is the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program and critical to helping low-income families address the effects of poverty,” said Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. “Yet three times this year, the Trump administration has ruthlessly tried to take food off the tables of struggling families.”