Just in time for Christmas, the Trump administration has announced its intention to strip nutrition support from hundreds of thousands of poor adults. The change is meant to encourage work, the administration said. “Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” Sonny Perdue, the secretary of agriculture, argued in a press release. “As we make benefits available to those who truly need them, we must also encourage participants to take proactive steps toward self-sufficiency. Moving people to work is common-sense policy, particularly at a time when the unemployment rate is at a generational low.”
But it is unclear whether making the safety net harder to access would improve the country’s labor-force participation rate, or how many people it would spur to find work. And it is clear that the kind of change proposed might make the country’s deep-poverty crisis worse, while punishing already struggling individuals.
As it is, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) requires able-bodied adults without dependent kids to work or engage in job training, and restricts them to three months of benefits every three years if they cannot do so. But states can exempt adults in areas with high unemployment rates from that three-in-three rule. The proposed change would bar states from offering that exemption unless the local unemployment rate is more than 7 percent, The Washington Post reports, which would cut an estimated 800,000 people from the program and save the government an estimated $15 billion over a 10-year window.