Nearly 700,000 Americans to lose food stamps under Trump work mandate

Some 688,000 food stamp recipients will have to find work by April or risk losing benefits as the Trump administration issues a final rule making it harder for states to get exemptions from work requirements

The Trump administration on Wednesday tightened work requirements for food stamp recipients, a move that will potentially affect hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the program. The programme provides free food to 36 million Americans.

Trump has argued that many Americans receiving food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, do not need it given the strong economy and low unemployment.

The Agriculture Department estimates the change would save roughly $5.5 billion over five years and cut benefits for roughly 688,000 SNAP recipients. In addition to restricting time limit waivers, the USDA has proposed eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility, a measure that allows recipients of certain non-cash public benefits to automatically qualify for food stamps, and changing how utility costs are factored into benefit calculations. If enacted, these new qualifications will become active on April 1, 2020.

The US generally limits the amount of time that adults can receive food stamps when they are aged 18-49 and who do not have dependents or disability benefits. States are now allowed to apply for waivers of the time limit, including areas with unemployment rates as low as 2.5%.

All together, the proposed regulations would have decreased the number of people on food stamps by 3.7 million had they been implemented past year, according to an Urban Institute report issued last month.

"This is an unacceptable escalation of the administration's war on working families, and it comes during a time when too many are forced to stretch already-thin budgets to make ends meet", said Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Democrat and chair of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations.

The state now has 673,966 residents receiving food stamps, according to the Human Services Department.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the rule change will promote work across the country and push people toward self-sufficiency.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blasted the Trump administration's efforts to reduce public benefits.

"The final rule would cause serious harm to individuals, communities, and the nation while doing nothing to improve the health and employment of those impacted by the rule", he said. Previous year the administration announced it would allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. The Food Research & Action Center is a national nonprofit organization that works to end poverty-related hunger.