WASHINGTON — The President Trump administration this week finalized a regulation that could knock about 50,000 Michiganders off food stamp benefits.
It’s one of three controversial policies the administration is pursuing that aim to limit eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that could ultimately result in roughly 180,000 Michiganders losing food assistance. The administration has portrayed the effort as a push to boost self-sufficiency, but critics have labeled it a cruel attack on an important anti-hunger program.
“Instead of combating food insecurity for millions, connecting workers to good-paying jobs or addressing income inequality, the administration is inflicting their draconian rule on millions of Americans across the nation who face the highest barriers to employment and economic stability,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule would tighten food stamp eligibility requirements by limiting states’ ability to grant waivers that extend benefits in areas with high unemployment. The administration estimates that about 688,000 people nationwide will lose access to nutrition benefits under the new regulation.
That could include about 47,300 in Michigan, according to an analysis of the proposed rule by the Urban Institute.
Combined with two other pending regulations to restrict SNAP access, the administration’s policies could lead to 3.7 million fewer people receiving food stamp benefits nationwide, including about 179,000 people in Michigan, according to the Urban Institute analysis of the proposals.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called the regulation finalized this week an effort to “move more able-bodied” food stamp recipients “towards self-sufficiency” and into employment. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” Perdue said in a statement.
Michigan Democrats and other critics have assailed Trump’s policies.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) wrote on Twitter, “Congress overwhelmingly and historically voted against the Administration’s efforts to tighten benefits for SNAP recipients. SNAP is critical to providing food and substance to many.”
More than 1.1 million people in Michigan receive food assistance through SNAP, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bob Wheaton told the Advance.
“Gov. [Gretchen] Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are committed to helping Michiganders stay healthy and access nutritious food,” he said. “These modest benefits can help children go further in school and in life, and they can help adults stay healthy and seek jobs.
“We strongly oppose the Trump administration’s proposals to push people off food assistance or cut their benefits,” Wheaton added.
Federal law limits the time frame for the receipt of SNAP benefits by “able-bodied” adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who don’t have dependents or a disability. They can receive benefits for three months in a 36-month period unless they meet certain work requirements, according to USDA.
States are allowed to waive those limits in areas where there’s high unemployment or sufficient jobs aren’t available, but the Trump administration said that states have “taken advantage of” weaknesses in the current regulations to request waivers in areas where it’s “questionable” whether there’s indeed a lack of sufficient employment.
“SNAP is the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program and critical to helping low-income families address the effects of poverty,” said Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. “Yet three times this year, the Trump administration has ruthlessly tried to take food off the tables of struggling families.”
Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.