WASHINGTON — The Trump administration this week finalized a regulation that could knock more than 30,000 Nevadans off food stamp benefits.
It’s one of three controversial policies the administration is pursuing that aim to limit 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,” 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. That could include about 30,700 Nevadans, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute that looked at the proposed rule.
Combined with two other pending regulations to restrict SNAP access, the administration’s policies could lead to 3.7 million fewer people receiving food stamp benefits nationwide, including 77,100 people in Nevada, according to the Urban Institute. The Washington, D.C.-based think tank based its analysis on the draft regulations, not final rules.
Nevada is expected to see the biggest drop among states in food stamp eligibility as a result of the combined Trump rules, according to the analysis. SNAP participation is expected to fall by 22 percent. Only Washington, D.C., would see a greater decline, with an expected 24 percent drop.
Nevada would be the worst impacted state because Nevada is one of the few states that took full advantage of all increased waivers and benefits during the economic downturn, said Julie Balderson, a program specialist with the state’s Division of Welfare and Supportive Services.
“Nevada levied every possible additional SNAP benefit during the recession to provide additional assistance to those impacted by the high unemployment rate and high foreclosure rates,” Balderson said. “If the proposal were to move forward and eliminate these waivers, SNAP eligibility rules would return to the calculations utilized in 2009, removing those additional benefits.”
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.
Critics assailed the rule as an attack on some of the poorest and most vulnerable populations.
“Just in time for the holidays, the Administration has finalized a new rule that kicks hundreds of thousands of Americans … off of their SNAP benefits,” Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) wrote on Twitter. “This will be devastating to our most vulnerable families.”
Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said in a statement, “This rule shows the administration’s shocking and inhumane disregard for the health and well-being of millions of Americans and 129,078 Nevada households who rely on SNAP benefits to put food on the table.”
He added, “The truth is many SNAP recipients are either attempting to find work or face hardships that prevent them from doing so. This administration would rather demonize them than help them.”
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 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.”