WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking comments on how best to serve able-bodied adults without dependents who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as it considers tightening up rules on who can use the program and for how long.
Brandon Lipps, administrator of Food and Nutrition Service and acting deputy undersecretary for USDA's Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, on Thursday morning spoke with reporters on a conference call to announce the department would publish an advance notice of rulemaking in the federal register on Friday. That is the first step toward changing a federal rule.
Lipps said how to best serve the relatively small population of adults who use SNAP, also commonly referred to as food stamps, has been the topic of conversation for many years. Only 9 percent of SNAP participants fall into the category of able-bodied adults without dependents, he said.
"This is a population we do think we can help move to self sufficiency with the right focus," he said.
SNAP has a number of work requirements for able-bodied participants already, he said, noting that such people only are allowed to be on the program for three months out of 36 unless they are working 80 hours per month. However, some states have waivers that allow people to stay on SNAP without meeting the work requirements.
The Trump Administration budget proposed restricting time-limit waivers to people in areas with at least 10 percent unemployment. Lipps said that is a consideration but there is no rule written as of yet. He clarified several times during the call that there is no proposed rule at this time, and the department for now only is seeking input on best practices and the needs of the population in question.
"This process is about informing us as we move forward," he said. "We want to make sure we have all of the best information available before we do that."
Lipps said the comment period will be open for 45 days. The department is seeking information on needs, best practices and any information relevant to the topic.
"We want to get that input back, analyze that carefully, find out what we know and what we've learned and what we still may need to know," he said.
He also said there is not any expected increase in worker or employee training to aid getting people to work and out of poverty, though he said the department would like to hear about programs and training opportunities that are working for state and local partners.
Lipps also briefly addressed the "harvest box" proposal that came out in the administration's budget proposal and would replace part of SNAP participants' benefits with a supplied box of food. Lipps called it "really a wonderful opportunity," and said he believes some recipients will be excited about the potential program. Exactly what the program would look like would vary, he said.
"We leave a lot of flexibility to states on how to carry that out," he said.
Comments can be submitted at federalregister.gov from Feb. 23 through April 9.