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As many as 668,000 people in the first month, and possibly millions beyond that, may be affected by a new rule ordered by the Trump Administration that add work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; also known as SNAP.

In a press release announcing the decision, United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the rule change restores what Congress originally intended the program to be for, “assistance through tough times, not a way of life.”

Janie Simms Hipp, Chickasaw Nation, is the chief executive officer of the Native American Agriculture Fund. She said there is a chain reaction when decisions like this are made and people who may have their SNAP benefits rescinded could move into food distribution programs.

“Fiddling with SNAP does not have neutral effects,” Hipp said. “It really puts a deeper strain on families that are trying to work.”

In fact, according to the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, when changes in SNAP eligibility are made Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations programs are looked to to make up the difference. Ultimately, these sites could see at least a 25 percent, if not higher, increase in participation with the changes that reduce SNAP eligibility.

Individuals between the ages of 18 to 49 who are “able-bodied” and do not have a dependent would be affected by the rule change. Currently, people in this age group can receive three months of benefits during a three year period by working at least 20 hours a week.

At the moment, states with an unemployment rate of 10 percent and higher or a lack of sufficient jobs have the ability to create waivers for the work requirement.

According the the United State Department of Agriculture press release, the number of Americans receiving SNAP benefits in 2000 was more than 17 million, while today that number has risen above 36 million. Secretary Perdue said now is a time better than ever for Americans to re-enter the workforce.

“Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work,” Secretary Perdue said. “This rule lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them.”

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said the announcement of the rule change is in direct opposition to the Farm Bill passed by both chambers of Congress, which excluded restrictions tightening the work requirement.

“SNAP is the country’s most effective anti-hunger initiative, providing a critical lifeline to more than 36 million hard-working Americans across the nation,” Pelosi said in the statement. “Yet, instead of combating food insecurity for millions, connecting workers to good-paying jobs or addressing income inequality, the Administration is inflicting their draconian rule on millions of Americans across the nation who face the highest barriers to employment and economic stability.”

Representative Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico, said the rule change could affect 15,000 families in New Mexico alone. She added that as someone who once used food stamps, she will continue to fight for families that do so now.

“Everyone deserves the security of getting food on the table for their families, but this Administration continues its war on working families by cutting food stamps benefits,” said Rep. Haaland. “As someone who relied on food stamps to feed my daughter and me when I was going to school as a single mom, I can honestly say that cutting food stamps is no way to help families who are struggling to make ends meet. I will continue to safeguard SNAP to ensure all Americans can put food on the table.”

The change to the rule is set to take effect April 1, 2020.

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Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email -

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