On Wednesday, the Trump Administration formalized new work requirements for recipients of food stamps. The new requirements are estimated to cause more than 700,000 people to lose access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The move on the part of the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Nutrition and Consumer Services department is meant, according to officials, to shore up the program, present less of a tax burden to the public and ensure that "able-bodied" people without disabilities or dependents aren't taking advantage of the system.

SNAP is the largest federal nutrition assistance program and provides benefits to eligible low-income individuals and families via an Electronic Benefits Transfer card that can be used like a debit card to purchase eligible food in authorized retail food stores.

While on paper the individuals may look like they are just taking an easy handout and not working, the reality, especially for many of those roughly 32,000, is that they are working, said Brandon Harley, Audubon Area Community Services deputy CEO.

"I know there is a large movement on the federal and state level saying that 'People that can work should,' I don’t necessarily disagree with that mindset," he said. "However, the people that receive these benefits are working. The issue is that more often than not they are underemployed and working in situations where they are struggling to make a living wage. Many have issues regarding transportation, medical services and providing themselves with wholesome and nutritious food. When you have those working but struggling with an educational deficit or the only jobs around them are low-wage, then they will struggle to meet needs. These are the people that apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The notion that these people aren't working is a misnomer."

The USDA rule changes will affect people between the ages of 18 and 49 who are childless and not disabled. Under current rules, this particular group is required to work at least 20 hours a week for more than 3 months over a 36-month period to qualify for food stamps. However, certain states, like Kentucky, have been able to waive these requirements for areas that have high unemployment rates.

The new rule would limit states from issuing those waivers and restrict their use to areas that have a 6% unemployment rate or higher. The move is the first of many under President Trump's April executive order, "Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility."

The goal of the order is to create more work programs and limit public assistance. Overall, according to the USDA, the new requirements would save the government $5.5 billion over five years.

In reality, the new rules are simply going to deny benefits to those working in a "gig" economy, said Harley.

"My dad had an industrial job when he retired in the 2000s," he said. "From that, he drew good wages, benefits and retirement. These jobs that used to be here don't seem to be growing at the pace needed. What we are seeing is a faster growth of service-oriented jobs like direct services, call centers, fast-food or Uber. That switch in our economy nationally and here has drastically shifted the financial base that families have to depend on and it has created a void. To fill that void, because wages aren't keeping up with demand, people depend on the assistance programs to survive.

"There is the belief in welfare that these are individuals that don’t do things. In my experience, that isn't true. The abled body that can, do work. The fundamental issue is that they are working two, maybe three jobs and not receiving what they need to support themselves. There are so many that are working to better themselves and now, they are being denied the aid they need to get them there."

Multiple attempts to get specific SNAP data for Daviess, Ohio, Hancock, McLean and Muhlenberg counties from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services were unsuccessful.

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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