The Trump administration’s proposal to overhaul federal food stamp rules could affect 4,500 Virginians, according to state officials who say they’ve already taken steps to prevent anyone from having to go hungry as a result.
Stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, are scheduled to take effect April 1, a change that could end benefits for roughly 700,000 people nationwide.
Under current SNAP eligibility rules, able-bodied adults with no dependents have to work, volunteer or participate in a job training program for at least 20 hours per week. Those who fail to meet the requirement can only receive benefits for three months in a three-year period. But states currently have the ability to waive those rules in areas with high unemployment, where steady work can be harder to find.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized a rule that will raise the bar for where those waivers apply. In Virginia, the number of localities where the waiver applies could drop from 55 to less than five, according to Virginia Department of Social Services Commissioner Duke Storen.
“It limits the flexibility that we have in the program to account for economic conditions in specific localities,” he said.
Virginia got ahead of the change, Storen said, by taking advantage of additional federal dollars to widen job training opportunities available to SNAP participants and, by extension, their ability to keep their benefits.
“I anticipate some individuals may drop off the program,” he said. “But we will make sure that they have every opportunity to successfully participate.”
The Trump administration has characterized the work waivers as overused, arguing they were applied so extensively they impeded the goal of getting able-bodied people off public assistance and into the workforce.
“We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a news release last week. “Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work. This rule lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them.”
In Virginia, there are currently 691,545 people receiving SNAP benefits across 338,442 households, according to the state Department of Social Services.