Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Condemns Trump Administration’s New SNAP Rule Change

December 5, 2019

This latest attack on America’s poor will increase hunger and jeopardize health & well-being of nearly 700,000 adults

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is condemning a new rule change to the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) benefits.  This week, the Trump administration continued its relentless onslaught against our nation’s poor by publishing a draconian rule that would cut SNAP benefits by over $5 billion over the next 5 years. This new rule would deny critical food assistance to nearly 700,000 people in America. In Massachusetts, MLRI estimates that approximately 35,000 vulnerable people could lose SNAP benefits. In addition to the devastating human toll, this policy change will also result in a loss of approximately $65 million in annual federal SNAP funding to the state.

Non-disabled adults without children (also referred to as “Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents” or “ABAWDs”) can get only 3 months of SNAP benefits in a 3 year period unless they are exempt from or are meeting punitive work rules. For over 20 years, states have been able to waive the time limit in areas where low-income adults are grappling with elevated rates of unemployment. In Massachusetts, this has ensured that workers are better able to weather times of economic distress and put food on the table.

The new rule severely restricts the flexibility of states to waive the time limit in areas with elevated unemployment rates. This will have a catastrophic impact on extremely poor, vulnerable adults such as: unemployed and underemployed workers, people with limited education and skills, individuals with criminal histories that create obstacles to employment, individuals with undiagnosed mental health or cognitive disabilities, low income veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or depression; and others facing employment barriers.

“The Trump Administration is ignoring the realities of the job market for low wage workers and also the connection between geography and employment opportunities. For example, this rule will disproportionately harm communities of color that are already struggling with economic instability and limited employment opportunities resulting from decades of explicit and implicit labor and housing discrimination,” said Georgia Katsoulomitis, MLRI’s executive director. “Given the totality of rhetoric and the various ill-conceived policies proposed by this administration, one must wonder if that is not part of the underlying intent.”

Beyond its immediate harm, the rule changes will also make it much harder for Massachusetts to combat future recessions.

“The rule is a blatant attempt to circumvent the will of Congress, which did not include these policy changes in the Farm Bill it passed, with bi-partisan support, in 2018,” said Patricia Baker, MLRI senior policy advocate and chair of the Massachusetts Food/SNAP Coalition. “Contrary to the Trump administration’s claims, this rule does not promote work, self-sufficiency, or economic mobility, and the Trump administration has not produced any evidence to support these claims. In fact, research has shown that limiting or denying access to public benefits does not result in increased employment.  Disconnecting people from SNAP disconnects them from employment and training programs. This rule simply takes critical food assistance away from people in need, increases poverty, and results in adverse health outcomes.”

SNAP has enjoyed bipartisan support for almost 50 years, and for very good reason. It is widely regarded as one of the most effective anti-poverty programs – one that has kept 3.4 million people out of poverty while, at the same time, providing a stimulus for local economies. This rule and other attempts by the Trump administration to decimate the SNAP program underscore that this administration does not understand, and does not care about, the real-world realities and struggles of low wage workers, of the working poor, and of those who face barriers to good-paying jobs.

“Let’s just call this what it is:  It is another attempt by the Trump administration to further a false narrative and fictional stereotype about people who are struggling with poverty. It is the latest in a series of attacks intended to punish people the Trump administration deems ‘undeserving’ of assistance to access the basic human needs, like food, required to live in dignity,” said Katsoulomitis.  “An ill-conceived policy that takes food out of people’s mouths does not make America great – it makes America cruel. And America is better than this.”


About the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is a nonprofit poverty law and policy center. It provides statewide advocacy and leadership in advancing laws, policies, and practices that secure economic, racial, and social justice for low-income people and communities. MLRI advances its mission through legal initiatives and policy reforms that address the root causes of poverty, remove barriers to opportunity, and create a path to economic stability for low-income individuals, families, and communities.  For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter (@MassLawReform) and Facebook.

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