The Slatest

Trump Administration Sidesteps Congress to Toughen Work Requirements for Food Stamp Recipients

Sonny Perdue, standing to the left of the frame, gestures as he speaks at a podium.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Alex Wong/Getty Images

Hours before President Trump is set to sign an $870 billion farm bill funding the nation’s agricultural and food assistance programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it plans to narrow the conditions in which states can issue waivers for food stamp work requirements. It’s a move that would likely affect hundreds of thousands of recipients.

According to the Washington Post, current USDA regulations allow states to waive work requirements in areas where the unemployment rate is at least 20 percent greater than the national rate. Under the USDA’s proposal, states can only waive the requirement in areas where unemployment is above 7 percent. According to the Post, as of 2016, about 755,000 unemployed, able-bodied recipients without dependents lived in areas that could lose eligibility.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters Thursday that the move was a common-sense one, and a rule that made particular sense with the country’s low unemployment rate—now at 3.7 percent. Perdue, who said the measure would save $15 billion over 10 years, argued the rule “restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, while it’s also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program.”

But Democrats have said that the administration was overstepping its executive power, particularly as Congress had already eliminated a similar provision in the farm bill set to be signed Thursday. Just as the administration has been chastised in recent court rulings for its attempts to unilaterally rewrite immigration law through executive power, critics have taken issue with the administration’s efforts to impose work requirements in government assistance programs without going through Congress. In January, the administration announced it would allow states to impose work requirements for Medicaid, causing Democrats to argue that it was going against congressional intent—a complaint a federal judge later found valid, concluding that the work requirement plans contradicted the objectives of the Medicaid program. The administration has continued to pursue the effort.