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Trump’s New Food Stamp Rule Will Punish the Poor, Expert Says

Beginning April 1, a federal rule change will render nearly 700,000 people ineligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. The new rule makes it harder for states to give SNAP benefits to unemployed adults without dependents. But a researcher who has studied SNAP says that “taking people who are unemployed off SNAP often does harm to more than just those who directly receive food assistance.”

Writing in The Atlantic, Professor Maggie Dickinson (Guttman Community College) said:  “Many of these people share their benefits with their family and social networks, including children and elderly family members. The ripple effects of the planned cuts will hurt this larger group of people too.”

Dickinson, author of a new book, Feeding the Crisis: Care and Abandonment in America’s Food Safety Net, ran a food-stamp outreach program in a food pantry and soup kitchen in Brooklyn from 2011 to 2013. Often she encountered people who did not live with their children, but who “used their meager benefits to fulfill family obligations that the welfare administration did not recognize.”

One unemployed father of four “used almost his entire $190 food-stamp budget each month to buy groceries for his children, even though they lived with their mother. He ate at several soup kitchens and went to food pantries so he would be able to buy more for his kids.” He told Dickinson: “I’ve basically been starving the past three days so my kids could have something to eat.”

Another father used most of his SNAP benefits to buy food for a son who lived with his ex-wife. He feared that Child Protective Services might remove the child if they found there wasn’t enough food in the house.

Others who were unemployed lived with friends or relatives and used SNAP benefits to contribute groceries to the household. This “allowed them to stay in the good graces of their housemates,” preventing them from becoming homeless.

The Trump administration’s rationale for the cuts is “that able-bodied unemployed SNAP recipients should find jobs instead of depending on the government,” Dickinson wrote. This “gives the impression that the program has to be protected from lazy, unemployed freeloaders.” The reality, she predicts, will create “more hunger and hardship for the members of low-income families who are doing their best to make sure everyone is cared for.”