Policy Issue

Policy Watch: Changes to SNAP Food Benefits

December 17, 2019

In 1996, President Clinton instituted a requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDS) to work, be in training, or volunteer for at least 20 hours per week, else they lose Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) coverage. The requirement allowed ABAWDS to use SNAP for up to 3 months within a 3-year period. States were able to request waivers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for cities and counties with high unemployment rates (about 10% or greater) or few job opportunities, and could "carry over" unused exemptions indefinitely.

Newly revised requirements under the Trump administration redefine the threshold to qualify for a waiver and restrict the carryover of time limit exemptions. About 688,000 SNAP recipients are expected to lose benefits nationwide. In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) estimates that 35,000 people will lose benefits, resulting in about $65 million in annual federal SNAP funding lost. The waiver changes will be effective April 1, 2020 and the exemption changes will be effective October 1, 2020.

SNAP has been demonstrated to reduce health care expenditures and be an economic stimulus in communities. Proponents of the revised requirements believe that with the current low unemployment rates, there should be no reason for ABAWDS to not be working. Opponents of these changes are concerned that not all communities have the same access to jobs and training opportunities, and that cutting SNAP benefits will lead to financial harm and hunger.

To review the final rule, click here.

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