Final Change To Food Aid Program Could Hurt Rural Arizonans Most

By Bret Jaspers
Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2019 - 3:03pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2019 - 3:10pm

New rules from the Trump administration could affect thousands of Arizonans who get waivers from the SNAP program’s work requirements. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the rule “promotes work for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents and does not apply to children and their parents, those over 50 years old, including the elderly, those with a disability, or pregnant women.”

Once the rule goes into effect next year, the level of unemployment in an area must be at least 7% overall for the jurisdiction to get a waiver from SNAP time limits for able-bodied adults without dependents. Currently, the area only has to be 20% above the national average unemployment rate to be eligible.

The proposed rule expressed concern that waivers “continue to cover significant portions of the country and are out of step with a national unemployment rate hovering at less than 4 percent.”

The stricter waiver rules would affect 6,700 Arizonans, according to a recent study from the Urban Institute. The federal government would save over $16 million from that decrease in the state.

Angie Rodgers, president and CEO of the Arizona Association of Food Banks, said this will mainly affect rural residents, as Maricopa, Pima, and Yavapai counties do not currently receive waivers from the work requirement.

“Those individuals may not have qualifications they need for jobs, they may have transportation barriers,” she said of rural Arizonans. “Or they may have barriers to employment such as mental health.”

Rodgers is also concerned about the money that will no longer flow to retail businesses that sell food in rural Arizona.

The stricter rules around waivers to work requirements is one of three proposals the USDA is pursuing for the SNAP program. The other two are not yet final.

Another is a change to what’s called “broad-based categorical eligibility,” where states can let people who qualify for other safety net programs automatically qualify for SNAP. The Urban Institute report estimated 71,400 Arizonans would lose food aid if that rule is finalized.

The third change standardizes how utility bills figure into a person’s SNAP application. The report said this would increase SNAP participation in Arizona by 12,800 people.

Altogether, the Urban Institute estimates the changes would drop national SNAP participation by 3.7 million people, including 65,300 people in Arizona.

“I think they believe there is an overreliance on the SNAP program, and we don’t believe that,” said Rodgers. “Some families are really struggling with exorbitant housing costs or high utility bills. We believe that SNAP just helps to supplement that diet to make sure that people have options for choosing healthier foods.”