Washington – Rep. Rosa DeLauro is pushing back on a new Trump administration rule that would cut tens of thousands of adults with no dependents in Connecticut from the food stamp program.
On Friday, she introduced the “Protect SNAP Act,” which would block the new food stamp rule by denying the U.S. Department of Agriculture the funds to implement it. The bill has 100 co-sponsors, including Reps. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, and Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
DeLauro, D-3rd District, said the Trump administration’s move to require some food stamp recipients to work at least 20 hours a week “is a betrayal of our nation’s values and decades of bipartisan leadership” in support of the food stamp program.
The USDA, which is responsible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — the official name for the food stamp program — requires eligible adults to work at least 20 hours per week to receive more than three months of benefits.
But states like Connecticut were allowed to waive that requirement in areas where the unemployment rate was higher than the national average. That made more than half of Connecticut’s cities and towns eligible for the waiver, including Hartford, New Haven, New Britain, Waterbury, Ansonia, East Lyme, Bridgeport and dozens of others.
The new rule, which would go into effect in April, will require states to adopt narrower criteria to waive the work requirement, so that waivers would only apply to areas with an unemployment rate much higher than the national average or that lack sufficient jobs.
The Connecticut Department of Social Services said up to 25,000 SNAP recipients in Connecticut could be affected by the new rule.
“The USDA’s own research shows that the vast majority of SNAP recipients who can work do,” DeLauro said. “President Trump is cutting off a vital lifeline and rigging SNAP against the very people who the program was created to help.”
Robin Lamott Sparks, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, said the most likely person to lose benefits under the new rule “is going to be a person without dependents who is looking for a job but hasn’t found one or is underemployed.”
Gov. Ned Lamont wrote the USDA earlier this year in opposition to the new rule, saying “Connecticut needs flexibility to determine what is best for its residents,” and that one out of 13 workers in the state relies on food stamps.
The governor also said “complexities” in the new rule would result in the need to hire more staff at the Connecticut Department of Social Services and impose new hardships to many lower-income residents.
“Many of our residents lack adequate transportation, housing, access to technology and the funds necessary to obtain and maintain adequate employment on the path to self-sufficiency,” the governor wrote.
DeLauro first introduced the Protect SNAP Act at the end of the last Congress in response to the Trump administration’s decision a year ago to begin the process of changing the food stamp work requirements.
The bill did not move forward in that Congress, in which the U.S. House was under Republican control. It stands a better chance now that Democrats hold the majority in the U.S. House.
The GOP still controls the Senate. But Senate Republicans have been disinclined to support Trump’s efforts to trim the food stamp program, which is supported by the nation’s farmers as well as its anti-poverty advocates. Those Republicans rejected an attempt to put new SNAP work requirements in the Farm Bill last year.
The revised work requirement is part of the administration’s broader effort to use its executive authority to limit access to the federal food welfare program, with two other rules in the works.
One would rein in what’s known as broad-based categorical eligibility, or the ability of a state to enroll someone in the food stamp program automatically when they qualify for another federal program aimed at helping low-income people. Categorical eligibility has allowed 43 states, including Connecticut, to expand the number of low-income residents who qualify for food stamps.
Earlier this week, the entire Connecticut congressional delegation wrote the USDA in opposition to another proposed rule that would alter the way utility costs, such as heating and cooling, are calculated.
Right now, states are allowed to estimate how much residents spend on utilities and take that expense into account when determining eligibility for SNAP. A beneficiary’s utility payments are also considered in determining the amount of food stamp benefits.
Under the USDA’s proposed rule, a fixed utility cost would be set for every state. But Connecticut lawmakers told the USDA that states like Connecticut, which has the third highest energy costs in the nation – behind Alaska and Hawaii – needs flexibility in determining utility costs, while implementation of the rule would force many in the state to choose between food and heat for their homes.