[image-1]Some 688,000 Americans could be dropped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because of new regulations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The rule, announced on Wed. Dec. 4, will revise the conditions that allow for states to waive the time frame able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) can utilize SNAP. Historically, ABAWDs have been allowed to use SNAP benefits for three months over a three-year period, unless they are working or are in an education program for 80 hours per month.

Counties would be able to apply for waivers to extend the SNAP benefits for able-bodied adults working 20 hours a week beyond three months, allowing new employees some additional support while working new, sometimes low-paying jobs.

Under the new regulation, counties must have at least a 6 percent unemployment rate to qualify for extension waivers. Charleston County’s 2018 unemployment rate was 2.9 percent.

“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” said Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, in a public statement. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”

Many across the nation, including Sue Berkowitz of S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, were quick to rebuke the measure.

“This rule will hurt many in S.C. by creating barriers to food as punishment for being able to secure work,” says Berkowitz. “Congress was clear when it reauthorized the Farm Bill they did not support this policy.”

South Carolina uses a 15 percent exemption, which allows for SNAP benefits to be extended by one month for one ABAWD every waiver.

According to Berkowitz, “People who have transportation issues, are hourly employees who cannot control their minimum mandatory hours, folks who have mental health issues but no doctor to diagnose,” will be negatively impacted by the measure. “Folks [who live] where there are no jobs available but are willing to work will go hungry.”

590,285 S.C. residents use SNAP benefits, according to the USDA. Nationally, over 34 million participate in the program.