Despite the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 a pandemic and advising people to limit contact with others, leading to disruptions with work hours, schooling, and more, the Trump administration still plans to cut food stamp benefits next month.
Starting on April 1, an estimated 700,000 people will lose access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tightens work requirements for able-bodied individuals without dependents. Proposed in February 2019, the rule will impact adults between the ages of 18 and 49 years old who do not have children and do not have a disability, a move NBC News reports will save the government $5.5 billion over five years. To receive SNAP benefits under the new rule, according to BuzzFeed News, people without children or a disability must work 20 hours per week to qualify.
"Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch," USDA secretary Sonny Perdue said in December. "That's the commitment behind SNAP, but, like other welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life."
Despite 14 different states, along with New York City and Washington, D.C., suing the Trump administration back in January, the plan will go into effect at a time when people across the country may very well be entering a difficult stretch. There are now more than 1,200 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of March 12. As such, health officials have urged people to stock up on food and supplies and prepare for the possibility they may need to stay at home from work or care for someone who is sick.
Amid concerns that people's finances and the economy will take a hit due to COVID-19, a spokesperson for USDA tells Romper it "intends to use all program flexibilities and contingencies to serve our program participants across our 15 nutrition programs."
"We have already begun to issue waivers to ease program operations and protect the health of participants," the USDA spokesperson says. "President Trump has made safety, security, and the health of the American people his top priority."
While, for instance, the USDA has granted schools in Virginia flexibility with meal service for "students who rely on school lunches" during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, this specific cut to food stamps is still in motion.
As grocery stores quickly empty, food banks in Washington, D.C. and in other cities across the nation are preparing to support people who may be in need of warm meal as COVID-19 continues to spread. What's more, as Forbes reported, job layoffs have already begun.
Tina Postel, executive director of Charlotte-based food pantry, Loaves and Fishes, told WBTV that people may facing tough choices in the near future. "When you have a family member that might lose some hours at work or their wages are lost for any reason," Postel said, "they might have to make the difficult decision on whether or not to buy groceries or pay the rent this month."
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