Houston Food Bank strongly opposes the new USDA proposed SNAP rule which would deny food access to those already struggling to make ends meet. On December 20, 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and its recipients, specifically Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs). The proposed SNAP rule in the Federal Register would restrict the use of state waivers, which would severely limit SNAP for ABAWDs who are seeking gainful employment. This rule would cut benefits to an estimated 750,000 individuals across the country, add more barriers to accessing SNAP, and disregard Congress’ will to exclude harsh work requirements from the nation’s best tool for lifting people out of poverty.
Despite its effectiveness, SNAP is already an under-utilized tool. Texas currently does not utilize a waiver; it shows here in Houston. Over 1 out of every 5, or 22.3%, of Houstonians are considered eligible but not enrolled in SNAP, leaving 193,551 Houstonians without SNAP benefits. The result? Poor health and education outcomes for children, as well as negative health impacts on seniors and families and the loss of $197 million in economic activity for grocery stores, farmers, and other local food retail suppliers. Houston has over $110 million of unclaimed SNAP benefits, according to a recent report by the Houston SNAP Task Force. Expanding access to SNAP should be our country’s priority, not restricting it further.
Currently, adults (18-50 years of age) who do not receive disability benefits and do not have children can only receive SNAP benefits for three-months, over the course of a three-year period, unless they are working at least 20 hour per week or taking part in comparable workforce/job training. For now, states can temporarily waive this rule while unemployment is low to allow states flexibility around economic fluctuations. Nearly every state in the U.S. has chosen to utilize waivers at some point in time.
Waivers offer a much-needed option for states across the country to protect food assistance for people who are looking for but are unable to find sufficient hours at their place of employment. This new rule would impose a “one-size-fits-all” approach to all the states—states with widely differing and diverse needs. If this rule becomes official that flexibility goes away, and people will have one more hardship—hunger—to add to their lack of hours at work.
Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States, has also issued a statement in opposition to the proposed rule. Their statement makes it clear that this rule is “aimed at individuals who are most in need of our help—people who without resources who are unemployed. While participating in SNAP, the average income of an unemployed or underemployed adult without a family is just 18 percent of the poverty line, or about $2,171, per year, for a single-person household in 2018. On average, that person’s SNAP benefit equates to $170 per month. It is inconceivable that we would deny food assistance to a person trying to live on just over $2,000 annually.”
Most brazen of all, the proposed rule ignores congressional intent. Notice of the rule was provided on the same day that the President signed the 2018 Farm Bill, a bipartisan bill which left current waiver provisions in place and purposefully excluded harsher work requirements. Circumventing the legislative process to implement a rule with the very same regulations recently rejected by Congress flies in the face of our democratic policy-making process.
To avoid a widespread increase in poverty and hunger across our entire country, we encourage our community to use their voices and ask the Administration to rescind this rule.
Once published in the federal register, the public will have 60 days to provide public comments. Houston Food Bank will encourage our community and our vast network of 1,500 partners to participate.
Government Relations Officer