USDA Scraps Trump Effort to Take Food Benefits From More Than a Million People

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday announced the official end of a Trump-era policy that could have stripped federal food benefits from more than a million people during the coronavirus pandemic by imposing more draconian work requirements on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients.

A federal court allowed the Biden USDA — headed by recently confirmed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — to withdraw the Trump administration’s appeal of an earlier ruling that blocked the policy change, which would have made it more difficult for states to waive work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries despite the ongoing economic crisis.

“We are pleased to finally put to rest a policy that would have restricted the ability of states to provide nutrition assistance to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) during times of high unemployment,” Vilsack said in a statement. “The rule would have penalized individuals who were unable to find consistent income, when many low-wage jobs have variable hours, and limited to no sick leave.”

“Groups with typically higher unemployment, including rural Americans, Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and People of Color, and those with less than a high school education would have been disproportionately harmed by this cruel policy,” Vilsack added.

According to the Trump USDA’s own estimates, the rule would have rendered more than 700,000 people ineligible for federal nutrition benefits, a devastating blow for those struggling to put food on the table amid widespread joblessness. Experts argued that the USDA’s analysis likely underestimated the number of people who would have been harmed by the policy change.

With hunger still at staggering levels across the U.S. — the latest Census data shows that more than 20 million adults said their households did not have enough to eat last month — Democratic lawmakers and activists celebrated USDA’s move to scrap a policy that would have made the crisis much worse.

Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, said in a statement Wednesday that “amidst a pandemic in which millions of Americans are struggling to find work, it is especially important to ensure that as many Americans as possible retain eligibility for federal benefits like SNAP.”

“Hunger is not an economic motivator — it is a policy failure,” Hayes added. “SNAP benefits provide the hand up so many Americans need in times of financial instability. I am pleased USDA has dropped this appeal.”