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The USDA Work Requirement Rule Must Be Stronger

Jan 07, 2019

This past December, President Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the Farm Bill, into law. This new law failed to include reforms to strengthen work requirements for food stamp recipients as advocated for by conservatives for years. To address concerns over the lack of increased work requirements, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a rule that would help approximately 800,000 people get back to work. Unfortunately, many Republicans hid behind the Administration’s actions and used the proposed Rule as a cover to ultimately vote in favor of the Farm Bill.

Although the USDA Rule is a good first step in helping more Americans find employment, it needs to be stronger and apply to the 4.5 million work-capable adults receiving food stamps.

Strong work requirements are important because they help reduce poverty and government dependency, increase self-sufficiency, and bolster healthy families. Studies show that people who are employed full-time are over six times less likely to fall back into poverty than people employed part-time. In addition, more than 90 percent of Americans agree that food stamp recipients who receive government benefits should be required to work or prepare for work in exchange for those benefits.

To achieve these benefits, Jamie Bryan Hall, Senior Policy Analyst at The Heritage Foundation, explains how the USDA can expand the rule:

First, the USDA should explicitly define the term “area” to mean a labor market area as defined by the Department of Labor based on commuting patterns. The labor market area corresponds closely to the area in which a food stamp recipient could reasonably be expected to look for work. And these areas are not subject to gaming by the states. Second, the USDA should interpret the insufficient jobs criterion more narrowly. Specifically, it should go as far as it can under current law and limit work requirement waivers to areas with a current unemployment rate in excess of 10 percent—or federal disaster areas, in which it would be unfair to withhold benefits from those who are unable to satisfy the work activities requirement. In terms of sheer numbers, these regulatory changes could be more substantial than those envisioned by the House, requiring work from as many as 4.5 million individual food stamp recipients who are not already satisfying the work requirement.

With this in mind, it’s important to recognize that food stamp benefits are vital in helping low income individuals. But it is just as important to focus on helping these same people get out of poverty. The USDA is on the right track but should expand the Rule so it applies to the 4.5 million work-capable adults without dependents. Doing so would encourage millions of Americans to get back to work, help end the cycle of poverty for millions who are dependent on government assistance, and save taxpayers billions of dollars over the next decade.