Going in the wrong direction: Proposed SNAP rule would create new obstacles and more bureaucracy

As the nation’s largest federal food assistance program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps more than 40 million people afford nutritious food each year. A proposed federal policy change would make it harder for low-income adults to pay for groceries and would cost billions on unneeded bureaucracy.

Currently, many low-wage and unemployed workers can only receive three months of SNAP assistance every three years unless they’re able to report engaging in qualifying work and work-related activities for a minimum of 80 hours each month. However, federal law currently gives states flexibility to exempt areas that are lagging economically from this three-month time limit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently proposed a new rule that would undermine that flexibility. Not only will the rule increase administrative burden on states, more than 755,000 low income individuals will be newly subjected to time limits and be at a higher risk of losing SNAP.

Time limits worsen health outcomes. This proposed rule is short-sighted, especially because individuals subject to time limits are often already working in volatile, low-wage jobs. These are the people who need additional support in finding employment, not an arbitrary cut off. This policy could have a disparate impact on rural communities as rural residents are forced to relocate to find work due to weak local job markets.

The proposed rule would also lead to adverse health outcomes from decreased nutrition for individuals who lose SNAP. Individuals in poor health face greater barriers to obtaining and maintaining a job. Using conservative assumptions, BDT estimates that the policy change will easily increase Medicaid spending by millions annually.

Tracking time limits is costly to states. Because of the additional reporting requirements, state agencies will have to hire more staff to implement and maintain the policy for those impacted. Using the USDA’s own estimates of the number of individuals who will be newly subjected to time limits, BDT calculates that the fiscal impact to states will exceed $3.6 billion over the next 10 years.

BDT strongly opposes the proposed rule. The overwhelming preponderance of evidence demonstrates that it would remove eligible people from the rolls for no other reason than their inability to navigate extra layers of bureaucracy that, at the same time, increase administrative burden on states.