The logo of the food stamp program

Washington – Single, unemployed adults without children who receive food stamps in Connecticut may soon see those benefits end under new regulations being considered by the Trump administration.

Trump has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

“This is a population that we do think we can help move to self-sufficiency with the right focus,” said Brandon Lipps, the USDA’s  Food and Nutrition Service administrator.

Advocates for food stamp recipients say adults receiving the food aid are jobless for good reasons, not because they don’t want to work.

“What we are really talking about is older adults, people with disabilities, people with serious health issues, people who would work if they could,” said Shannon Yearwood, executive director of End Hunger CT!

She said she is “definitely concerned” about the prospect of tightening up food stamp eligibility.

In Connecticut, work requirements are imposed on “able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs, in about half of the state’s towns.

Welfare reform passed by Congress in 1996 limited ABAWDs to three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period unless they work at least 20 hours a week or are enrolled in a workfare or job training program. The restriction was lifted during the last recession, but it was restored in April of 2016.

However, Connecticut  received a waiver from the USDA to continue the benefits for ABAWADs in about 80 Connecticut towns – including Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, East Haven, New London and Norwalk — because they lagged behind the nation in recovering from the recession.

The USDA is now considering ending those waivers.

“There is a waiver process that is allowing this population not to reach those work requirements,” Lipps said. “That’s one of the issues that we’re looking for input on.”

The USDA is accepting public comments on its proposal until April 9.

But food-stamp advocates like Rep. Rosa DeLauro say USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue is intent on cutting food aid to the vulnerable.

“The vast majority of SNAP recipients already work if they can, and the USDA’s most recent data shows that work rates have been increasing year after year — so Secretary Perdue is searching for a solution for a problem that does not exist,” DeLauro said. “The American people would be far better served if the Trump administration and congressional Republicans focused on economic policies that create jobs and raise wages instead of cruelly blaming people for needing a helping hand.”

Besides eliminating the waivers, the USDA is considering raising the age limit that defines an ABAWAD from 49 to 62.

Trump has also called for some major changes to the food stamp program in his budget.

Currently, SNAP beneficiaries get money loaded onto an EBT card they can use to buy what they want as long as it falls under federal guidelines.

Under Trump’s budget,  low-income Americans who receive at least $90 a month would get about half of their benefits in the form of a “USDA Foods package.” The package was described in the budget as consisting of “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables.” The boxes would not include fresh fruits or vegetables.

In Connecticut the average per-person monthly benefit is $132 and the average per family benefit Is $233.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 432,000 Connecticut residents, or about 12 percent of the state’s population, received food stamps in January. About 57 percent were families with children, and 38 percent were in working families, the center said.

Josh Protas, vice president of public policy for MAZON, a national group that fights hunger, said most of the things in the president’s budget won’t get enacted by Congress. But Protas also said the Trump administration proposals are still a threat to those who depend on SNAP.

“The budget set a dangerous tone and advanced some potentially very harmful ideas,” he said.

Advocates say food stamp recipients already struggle to feed themselves and their families.

A report released this week by the Urban Institute and the University of Illinois compared the maximum, per-meal benefit allowed by the food-stamp program with the average cost of meals purchased by low-income households in the United States. The researchers found that in 99 percent of counties – including all of those in Connecticut — those meals regularly cost more than even the maximum benefit disbursed by SNAP.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and a handful of Democratic colleagues, including Sen. Chris Murphy, introduced a bill Thursday aimed at helping ABAWDs by requiring all states to offer enough placement in a job training or workfare program so food stamp recipients don’t lose benefits.

The bill, called the “SNAP Work Opportunities and Veteran Protection Act,” would also allow eligible recipients to continue their SNAP benefits in the event that there are not enough spaces in training programs for all ABAWDs looking for work and would provide a waiver of the three-month limitation for veterans who are undergoing work therapy or mental health or physical rehabilitation.

“Congress must ensure that SNAP recipients who are actively seeking employment are not unfairly stripped of their benefits simply due to lack of availability in job placement programs,” Blumenthal said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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