Finalized SNAP Rule is Rooted in Racial Discrimination

By Parker Gilkesson

On December 5, 2019, the Trump Administration finalized a harmful rule that will take food assistance away from over 700,000 people struggling to find or sustain work, and require millions more to report their hours of work each week. After this proposed rule was released in February, more than 100,000 people submitted comments, overwhelmingly in opposition. This was just the first of three proposed rules that would limit access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Originally, the administration attempted to make similar harmful changes legislatively in the 2018 Farm Bill. Although, those changes were rejected by a strong bipartisan majority, the administration undermined Congress and has continued its regulatory attacks on the SNAP program. Research shows that mandatory work requirements do not increase employment outcomes, but receipt of SNAP does. Therefore, taking away food assistance from Americans struggling to get employment is not based in strengthening work, but really is rooted in racial discrimination to justify program cuts.

SNAP has a time limit that requires states to limit food assistance to just three months out of every three years for most working-age adults without minor children in the home, unless they have a documented disability or report 20 hours of work or related activities each week. Starting April 1, the final rule will restrict states’ ability to waive the SNAP three-month time limit in many areas with insufficient jobs. This will cause individuals to lose critical SNAP benefits during a time when they need them most, will require more SNAP recipients to meet burdensome reporting requirements, and will reduce SNAP’s important role as a countercyclical support in times of economic distress.

Proposals and policies like this one that mandate work in public benefits programs are rooted in the harmful perception that people experiencing poverty do not want to work. These mindsets stem from a long history of racially motivated narratives that illustrate people of color as the face of poverty. These narratives have been employed to undermine support from white Americans for public assistance programs. The reality is that most SNAP recipients who can work, do work.

Proposals to cut SNAP benefits based on unemployment or underemployment do not consider the realities of today’s labor market, nor do they consider the real economic implications of systemic racism for people of color in this country. People of color face greater incarceration rates due to unfair criminalization, employment discrimination, racial income disparities, being more likely to live in neighborhoods with poor access to jobs, and having a greater likelihood of only being able to access part-time work. Due to these systemic barriers, people of color experience higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts. The finalization of this rule will disproportionately affect communities of color. Rules like this are a part of a long list of policies that have reduced economic mobility for people of color.

In order to live, work, and thrive, people need food. The notion that work justifies one’s ability to access a basic necessity of life, such as food, is inhumane. Hunger does not make people more employable, and there is no evidence that mandating work in public benefits programs improves work outcomes. However, substantial evidence shows that SNAP encourages work.

According to Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), taking away food assistance through this rule is a way to “restore the dignity of work.” However, we believe that true dignity is putting food on the tables of Americans to support them as they attain the education, training, and skills necessary to get and sustain jobs that will help them to support themselves and their families. As a country, we must change our mindsets to stop demonizing people experiencing poverty and start creating policies that support the real needs of real people.