Sonny Perdue

Sen. John Hoeven, left, R-N.D., and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue talked with Forum News Service representatives on March 9. Purdue says getting President Trump to sign the farm bill was contingent on plans from the USDA to tighten SNAP regulations.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to move ahead with new restrictions for able-bodied adults without dependents on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

In a call with media on Wednesday, Dec. 19, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the farm bill, which President Donald Trump signed Thursday, was important legislation that “reinforces the farm safety net.” However, Perdue indicated Trump’s support of the bill was contingent on the USDA finding a way to tighten up who could use SNAP, previously known as food stamps, in a way that the farm bill did not do.

The final version of the farm bill did not incorporate the House’s controversial SNAP work restrictions.

Perdue said the proposed rules from USDA are to ensure “those who are able to work do so.”

Joining Perdue on the call was Brandon Lipps, acting deputy undersecretary for food and nutrition consumer services, who gave most of the details for the proposed rules.

The rules will be subject to a 60-day comment period once they’ve been published in the Federal Register, Lipps said. An earlier comment period on the same subject garnered about 36,000 comments, and Lipps expects the proposed rules will get similar attention.

Lipps and Perdue said the new rules only will affect so-called ABAWDs, or able-bodied adults without dependents, not the elderly, children, pregnant women or people with disabilities.

SNAP rules limit participation by ABAWDs to three months in a 36-month period unless the individual is working or participating in a work program for at least 80 hours per month. The law allows states to waive these limits in areas where sufficient jobs are not available.

Of 3.8 million ABAWDs on SNAP, Perdue and Lipps said 2.8 million are participating in the program due to work restriction waivers. To address the issue, the proposed rules would limit waivers.

“This is unacceptable to most Americans and belies common sense,” Perdue said about how many waivers have been issued.

Some of the new rules would limit “gerrymandering” of areas in order to reach the threshold of unemployment required for waivers. Perdue said some places with low unemployment are put together with areas of high unemployment in order for a geographic area to qualify for waivers.

The rules also would restrict states from stockpiling waivers. Lipps explained that states are allowed to waive up to 15 percent of ABAWDs from work requirements. If states don’t use those waivers, they can hold onto them. Perdue said California has more than 800,000 stockpiled waivers.

Perdue and Lipps claimed the rule changes would save $15 billion over 10 years; however, they did not indicate how that figure was reached nor did they have a number of people who might not qualify for SNAP under the proposed rules.

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