Every person deserves to eat. But far too many adults in Louisiana struggle to keep food on the table, unable to find work or stuck getting by on jobs that offer low wages and unpredictable hours.
For the hundreds of thousands of people in our state who face difficult choices every month between keeping the lights on and eating adequate meals, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a lifeline. Recently, however, President Donald Trump’s administration released a harsh new SNAP rule that will snatch food from nearly 700,000 Americans with very limited resources.
A severe provision of SNAP law limits adults who aren’t living with dependents to only three months of food assistance out of every three years, for months when they can’t document at least 20 hours of work a week. But federal law also allows states to exempt people in areas with high unemployment from this strict time-limit. Because Louisiana’s unemployment rate is significantly higher than the national average, we currently qualify for a statewide exemption.
The new rule makes it harder for states to exempt people from this time limit. Since huge swathes of Louisiana — with high concentrations of poverty — will lose the exemption, the new rule will hit us particularly hard. Tens of thousands of Louisianans will face draconian restrictions food assistance when the new rule goes into effect early next year.
The people subject to the time limit are the poorest of the poor. Their average income is only 18% of the poverty line — only $2,248 a year for a single person. Many face severe obstacles to sustaining employment, such as homelessness, limited educational attainment, racial discrimination in the labor market, and contact with the criminal justice system — obstacles that the new rules do nothing to address.
The administration says the rule will encourage people to find work. In fact, it is cruelty masquerading as compassion.
As the vast majority of more than 100,000 comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture pointed out, taking food away from people does nothing to help them find work. And since SNAP also supports the farmers, distributors, and grocers who feed them, this change makes it harder for people to find work by reducing an important driver of economic activity in their communities.
The new rule also leaves our state — and the nation as a whole — more vulnerable when the next recession hits. In 2009, SNAP responded quickly to worsening economic conditions, ensuring that people laid off from work had resources for food, and contributing substantial sums to local economies. Waivers from the time limit were a key part of that response — 88% of people otherwise subject to the rule were exempted by waivers at the height of the recession.
The new rules, however, disregard a key signal of rapidly rising unemployment, leaving people to suffer while statistics catch up to reality.
In a country as rich as ours, all people should have food to eat.
The rule is set to go into effect in April 2020, but it faces a near-certain court challenge. We should all hope that this harmful change is struck down.
Danny Mintz is an anti-hunger policy advocate with the Louisiana Budget Project. He can be reached at email@example.com.