SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Human Services says that more than 19,000 Oregonians could lose their government food assistance under a new Trump administration rule that was finalized on Thursday.
The rule essentially tightens work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. While SNAP generally requires that adults receive benefits for no more than three months in a three-year period if they are not working or training at least 20 hours per week, states were previously allowed greater freedom to waive those requirements.
"Oregon, like most states, has used waivers to extend benefits for longer than three months to a group of SNAP recipients known as 'able-bodied adults without dependents' (ABAWD) if they live in areas with high unemployment and limited job opportunities," DHS said in a statement. "This group includes individuals ages 18 through 49 who don't have disabilities, don't have children or other dependents and are considered able to work."
Oregon had approved waivers for 31 counties in the state. Once those waivers expire on March 31, 2020, the new requirements will ensure that only six counties are eligible for a waiver. Under the rule change, counties must have an unemployment rate at least 20 percent higher than the national rate — no less than six percent unemployment, DHS says.
"The proposed rule would encourage broader application of the statutory ABAWD work requirement, consistent with the Administration's focus on fostering self-sufficiency," the Trump administration's proposal reads.
According to DHS, unemployment rates for those without a high school diploma or GED are often more than double the average rate.
"Other groups that face additional obstacles when seeking steady employment include agricultural workers, veterans, former foster youth, formerly incarcerated people and rural residents with limited transportation," the agency said.
While DHS did not name the six Oregon counties that would remain eligible for work requirement waivers under the new rule, Employment Department statistics from September 2019 list Grant County as the highest in the state, at 7.1 percent. Klamath County had a 6.7 percent unemployment rate, and Wallow County had a 6.6 percent rate. Lake County landed precisely at the threshold of 6 percent.
During the public comment period for the proposed rule, DHS says that there were more than 140,000 comments opposing the change. The change is expected to affect eligibility for roughly 700,000 SNAP recipients in the U.S.