The Trump administration is moving forward with its plan to tighten work requirements for people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) despite the growing coronavirus threat, a move that could see hundreds of thousands of citizens kicked off the program.
According to BuzzFeed, the Department of Agriculture has confirmed that it will change work requirements beginning April 1. The rules will force those without a disability or children to work 20 hours per week to qualify for the SNAP program previously known as food stamps. The White House said 700,000 people would be ineligible for the SNAP program under these rules. However, Lauren Bauer, a fellow with the Brookings Institute, said that was the number before the coronavirus outbreak.
“That number is going to be much, much higher,” she told Buzzfeed. “It’s going to cause harm both to the people who are eligible for SNAP, but it’s also going to cause harm for the economy.”
The service industry and gig economy will be particularly affected by the virus. People across the country are being told to stay inside and avoid big social settings such as bars and gyms. Additionally, multiple sports leagues and concerts have been canceled.
People who work in these settings will see their hours cut considerably and may be laid off, making them ineligible for SNAP benefits. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, said he will continue to pay employees, even after the NBA season was suspended Wednesday.
The Trump administration considered delaying the new requirements, but Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told a House Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this week that the plan will go forward.
Adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without a disability or children have been required to work at least 80 hours a month to receive benefits since the mid-1990s. However, some states have waived that requirement due to a high unemployment rate. The new requirements would make it harder for states to do that.
Purdue added that states can lessen the impact of the coronavirus on SNAP enrollment through a good cause waiver. The waivers are used when someone has a good cause for missing work, such as falling ill or an office building being shut down due to infection. Good cause waivers can be administered at the state level and do not need to be approved federally.
“Whether you are sick or your job says you can’t come to work, the good cause will eliminate need for work requirements under this rule,” Perdue said in a statement to BuzzFeed.