SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – often referred to as “Food Stamps”– is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and provides essential access to healthy food to approximately 40 million people, based on income eligibility guidelines. It is now under threat from proposed rule changes that may lead to 755,000 people losing their SNAP benefits. Under current law, able-bodied adults without dependents, ages 18-49 (ABAWD) cannot access SNAP for more than three months across a period of three years, unless they are working or registered in an education or training program. States currently have the ability to waive this time limit (known as the SNAP ABAWD time limit waiver) if the state (or areas of the state) has high unemployment or a lack of sufficient jobs. However, the proposed changes by the USDA would place greater burden on states to meet these requirements in order to waive the time limit. We encourage you to submit a comment urging the Department not to move forward with these proposed changes, which would put the health and economic security of hundreds of thousands of people at risk.

The proposed changes would require states to demonstrate a higher unemployment rate than is currently needed to waive the time restriction. The changes would also limit the duration of the SNAP ABAWD time limit to one year or shorter. The USDA claims that this policy will help incentivize families to work if they wish to retain their SNAP benefits. However, there is no evidence to suggest that receiving SNAP benefits discourages people from working. If anything, work requirements have been shown to result in people losing coverage of benefits (like health insurance and food assistance) that support them in getting and keeping work. Work requirements have been so ineffective and unjust, that a federal judge recently blocked similar restrictions imposed on Medicaid beneficiaries in both Arkansas and Kentucky.

The proposed policy also fails to take into account existing structural disparities that would make racial and ethnic minority groups among those most affected. For instance, people of color are less likely to live in close proximity to jobs, thus affecting their ability to access work. Similarly, persistent discriminatory practices in the workforce also create barriers for racial and ethnic minorities to gain employment.

If the proposed changes are approved, people who are unable to find work, or unable to prove they are working, will lose access to nutritional support that is critical for specific health outcomes and overall health and well-being. For example, limited access to nutritious food is associated with poor oral health outcomes, which may undermine self-esteem, lead to increased social isolation and depression and decrease a person’s productivity and ability to work.

Research has also found that adults who received SNAP benefits as children are more likely to graduate high school and report better health outcomes than adults who did not have access to the program. SNAP has also been associated with fewer low-birth weight babies, and families receiving SNAP are less likely to forego medical care in order to pay for other basic needs like food. 

As consumer health care advocates, we must draw attention and fight back against policies that threaten people’s health and well-being. You can add your voice by submitting your comment opposing changes to the SNAP policy on or before April 2, 2019. You can use the Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) campaign’s template comment for language and information to craft your individual or organizational comment. Don’t forget to submit your comment by April 2!

Andrea Chu, Community Catalyst Intern