The Ripple Effects of Taking SNAP Benefits From One Person

A new Trump-administration rule will cut food assistance for nearly 700,000 Americans, also affecting many of their relatives and housemates.

Maggie Dickinson| The Atlantic | December 10, 2019


Last week, the Trump administration approved a new rule that is estimated to cut off nearly 700,000 unemployed people from food assistance provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). The rule, which makes it harder for states to waive the federal program’s work requirements in areas of high unemployment, targets a group of people known, in the bureaucratic language of public-assistance programs, as ABAWDs—“able-bodied adults without dependents.”

Congress rejected similar cuts to SNAP in the 2018 Farm Bill, but this time the Trump administration is going around the legislative process by cutting unemployed people from the rolls through administrative rule changes. (The rule is set to go into effect on April 1.) The administration paints ABAWDs as a group of people who can justifiably be cut off from assistance because they ought to be working. Announcing the rule change, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a press release, “We need everyone who can work, to work.” A representative of the USDA assured reporters that vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and people who are disabled would not be affected.

Critics of the new rule note that work requirements have been shown to not help unemployed people find work and to make it more difficult for them to feed themselves. But taking people who are unemployed off SNAP often does harm to more than just those who directly receive food assistance. Many of these people share their benefits with their family and social networks, including children and elderly family members. The ripple effects of the planned cuts will hurt this larger group o