NSC urges department of agriculture to reject proposed restrictions on SNAP recipients, focus on skills instead

By Kermit Kaleba, April 09, 2018

On Friday, National Skills Coalition submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the agency to reject changes to eligibility for certain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and encouraging the agency to focus instead on strengthening efforts to expand skills opportunities under the SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program.

The comments were submitted in response to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) released by USDA on February 23, which sought input on state flexibility to request waivers from the time limits that generally apply to individuals who are receiving SNAP and are classified as “able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs). Under current law, ABAWDs can receive SNAP benefits for more than three months in any 36-month period only if they work or participate in some form of training or work program for at least 80 hours per month. States can request waivers for areas where unemployment exceeds 10 percent or can otherwise demonstrate that there are not sufficient jobs in the area to provide employment opportunities. As of the fourth quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, 33 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands had ongoing waivers that applied to the whole state or areas within the state.

The ANPRM suggests that states may be using ABAWD waivers “in ways that do not strengthen the goal of helping SNAP recipients find and keep work when jobs are sufficiently available,” and seeks public comment on options for limiting state flexibility for waiver requests to align with President Trump’s proposals around restricting SNAP eligibility in his FY 2019 budget proposal.

NSC’s comments express concerns about the proposed changes signaled by USDA in the ANPRM, noting that many SNAP recipients lack the skills and credentials necessary to get and keep family-supporting jobs, and encouraging the agency to instead build on current efforts to expand access to high quality education and training through the SNAP E&T program. In particular, NSC calls for USDA to expand technical assistance and guidance to states through the SNAP to Skills initiative; encourage the development of apprenticeship and work-based learning opportunities; and analyzing performance data collected under the new SNAP E&T outcomes reporting system to better inform states efforts with vulnerable sub-populations of workers. NSC also urges the agency to work with Congressional leadership to advance key policy changes through the upcoming “Farm Bill” reauthorization, including increased resources to states and other stakeholders to expand skills-based SNAP E&T models, and elimination of the burdensome ABAWD time limits altogether. These legislative proposals are consistent with policy recommendations that NSC developed with state and local leaders on our Safety Net and Skills Advisory Panel, and which were released in December 2017.

It is unclear whether the agency will actually seek to introduce more formal proposed rules, or when such rulemaking might occur. The House Agriculture Committee is expected to consider a Farm Bill reauthorization later this month – likely on a partisan basis – and it seems unlikely that the agency would try to make significant regulatory changes in advance of any final legislation.

While text of the House bill has not been released, it is expected to call for stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients, but also provide additional resources for SNAP E&T. Committee Democrats have signaled that they are unwilling to agree to new work requirements, which means that without significant changes the House bill would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate, where 60 votes would be needed to pass the legislation. NSC will provide updated analysis of the House bill as new information becomes available.