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Hundreds of thousands of people are likely to lose their food stamps, technically known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP. That is because the Trump administration announced today that it is tightening work requirements for the food aid program. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: The administration says it wants to encourage those who get SNAP benefits to work, especially now that the economy is doing so well. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says the aid was never intended to be permanent but to help people through difficult times.
SONNY PERDUE: We're taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program.
FESSLER: And the change, which is set to go into effect in April, would save an estimated $5 billion over the next five years. But it also means that nearly 700,000 able-bodied, childless adults will lose their benefits, people like Troy Williams of Baltimore, who told NPR earlier this year that he wouldn't be able to meet the 20-hour-a-week work requirement because he has a seasonal job doing janitorial work at the city's baseball and football stadiums.
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TROY WILLIAMS: And it's hard finding a full-time job. So I mean, I would be hurting. I would be hurting.
FESSLER: He already relies on a local food pantry to supplement his $192-a-month SNAP benefit. Anti-hunger advocates say there are many more SNAP recipients out there like Williams, those who have some work but not enough or who have been unable to find jobs, even if they've been looking. Opponents of the rules say it's not only cruel but counterproductive.
JESSICA BARTHOLOW: We think that people will be hungrier, and they will be less able to secure permanent and steady work not more able.
FESSLER: Jessica Bartholow is with the Western Center on Law & Poverty in California, one of thousands of groups that came out against the new rule after it was proposed last spring. She says her center represents many people, including those who are homeless or have a mental disability, who could have a hard time proving that they meet the new requirements.
BARTHOLOW: Even if they are working 20 hours a week, many people will struggle to document that. A lot of people who are low-income and who turn to the SNAP program to prevent hunger work in jobs that don't regularly provide a pay stub.
FESSLER: In fact, the additional paperwork and reporting requirements have drawn objections from states, which fear that they'll end up bearing the costs. Earlier this year, 21 state attorneys general came out against the new rule. They said it undermined the purpose of the food aid program, which is to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. But the Trump administration notes that the change only applies to able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 and that individuals can also meet the requirements by volunteering or getting job training. Opponents say such opportunities are limited and some, like the Western Center, are already considering legal action to prevent the new rule from going into effect.
Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.
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