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USDA Head Visits Indy Amid Food-Stamp Cuts

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says changes to SNAP work requirements will move participants toward self-sufficiency. (USDA/Flickr)
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says changes to SNAP work requirements will move participants toward self-sufficiency. (USDA/Flickr)
December 10, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS — Hunger-fighting groups say they're disappointed the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture used an Indiana visit to tout cuts to food assistance programs.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made several stops in Indianapolis on Monday, including a WorkOne Indy Training Site. That's where he discussed a new rule tightening work restrictions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that he said would move participants toward self-sufficiency and into employment.

Emily Weikert Bryant, executive director with Feeding Indiana's Hungry, said she disagrees.

"Able-bodied adults without dependents can still struggle to find steady employment even in a strong labor market,” Bryant said. “The USDA's own estimate is that there would be 700,000 unemployed individuals who would lose food assistance under this policy. And they don't have anything that shows that this would help them gain employment."

The finalized USDA rule revokes the ability for states to issue waivers on the three-month limit for SNAP benefits to people who aren't either working or in a training program for 20 hours a week. Indiana is not affected because it does not have a work-requirement waiver.

The USDA is proposing two other changes to the SNAP program that would affect automatic enrollment when a person qualifies for another form of federal assistance, and how states use household utility costs to determine SNAP benefit amounts. Bryant contends the changes will create needless layers of red tape that will do a those in greatest need.

"With all of these proposals, Congress considered them and rejected them when they passed the farm bill about this time last year,” she said. “And so it's disappointing that the administration is really taking a second bite at the apple, getting the policies that they wanted out of a farm bill that Congress rejected."

A study from the Urban Institute estimated the three rules together would result in 3.7 million people across the country losing their SNAP benefits. According to the latest data, roughly 520,000 Hoosiers rely on SNAP to put food on the table.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN