Last Day to Submit Public Comments Over SNAP Budget Cuts that Could Leave 1 Million Americans Hungry

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Today is the final day that you can (and should) submit public comments on the Department of Agriculture’s proposal to pare back on exemptions that allow Americans to receive SNAP benefits for more than three months in a three-year period. These changes to SNAP, the federally funded supplemental nutrition assistance program, are projected to impact more than 750,000 people who are classified as able-bodied adults without dependents. Public comment on the fate of food stamps has been open since the beginning of February.

Because unemployment rates have dropped from 9.9 percent to 3.9 percent over the past eight years, the Trump administration hopes to end waivers that were originally meant to help Americans through the economic downturn of the Great Recession. The SNAP program has always limited benefits to three months, but the cuts in funding will affect those who need exemptions beyond this period.

The Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, has supported these changes as a way to promote the administration’s insistence that federal assistance is hindering Americans from becoming “self-sufficient.” Perdue recently told a congressional committee, “We believe the purpose of our welfare system should help people to become independent rather than permanent dependency. We think we are helping people to, again, move into the dignity of work and the respect of providing for their families.”

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Experts who oppose this rationale contend that there is no correlation between offering financial assistance and encouraging dependency. “This idea that people are ripping off the system or something, that’s just not true,” a professor of agriculture and consumer economics told NPR. Instead, limiting SNAP benefits will end up exacerbating hunger in America and cost the country more money in the long run. A similar proposal to cut billions of dollars of funding from SNAP was passed last year by the House but was unable to garner enough support in the Senate.

If implemented, the changes would disqualify SNAP recipients who are classified as “able-bodied” but are actually suffering from an illness or disability that limits their ability to work. The proposal, for instance, considers people who suffer from substance addiction and mental illness, as well those without homes, to be able-bodied enough to work and will therefore prevent them from receiving the SNAP benefits that they need. The American Center for Progress cited a figure that estimates that about “12 percent of SNAP recipients ages 18 to 59 have at least one physical, functional, or work limitations but are not counted as disabled under SNAP.”

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The updates to the program also do not take into consideration the significant challenges that people face when they have criminal records, nor the systemic obstacles that make it more difficult for members of rural, black, and Latino communities to be hired. Ultimately, having only three months to be adequately employed is simply not enough time for everyone to become self-sufficient, especially the people who would most benefit from aid that allows them to purchase healthy, nutritious foods.

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