USDA prioritizes work for food stamp qualifiers

The Trump administration, through the Department of Agriculture, released an outline of priorities for farm legislation that calls for having food stamp recipients work, which has been a longtime priority for conservatives.

The four-page document released Wednesday by the USDA lists the priorities in bullets and calls for supporting “work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility for individuals and families” who receive the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, usually referred to as food stamps.

The USDA document also pushes for cutting “regulatory burdens” and monitors other countries that “impede US agricultural exports.”

In 2016, about 45.8 million people relied on food stamps to feed themselves, according to numbers from the USDA. The data also showed that 44% of food stamp participants lived in households with earnings, and nearly two-thirds of participants were children, elderly or had disabilities.

The farm bill is monumental legislation — a bill with funding that sometimes tops $100 billion — that sets the eating and farming policy in the United States, including what we grow, what you know about your dinner and how much the government spends in the process, for about five years. The last one was signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2014.

The bill funds programs within the USDA. The current farm legislation is set to expire at the end of September.

In May 2017, Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, revealed the Trump administration’s budget outline, which included cutting the food stamp budget aimed at getting people working.

“If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work,” Mulvaney said at the time. “If you’re on disability insurance and you’re not supposed to be — if you’re not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work.”

Sarah Little, a spokeswoman for Sen. Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told CNN the Kansas Republican’s focus for the legislation will likely prioritize fixing fraud in SNAP as administrated by states.

“I certainly welcome Secretary Perdue’s broad Farm Bill principles,” Roberts said in a statement. “I appreciate the secretary’s input and look forward to working with the department as we continue to write the Farm Bill.”

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, told reporters at the Capitol she appreciated the input from the USDA but that many food stamp recipients are already working.

“Many, many people on food assistance are working,” she said. “Certainly we’re going to do what’s fair and right and encourages people to have more work opportunities.”

On the issue of cutting funding, she responded: “I don’t support making cuts.”

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue called his priorities a “road map” to CNN in a statement.

“They are our way of letting Congress know what we’ve heard from the hard-working men and women of American Agriculture,” he said. “While we understand it’s the legislature’s job to write the Farm Bill, USDA will be right there providing whatever counsel Congress may request or require.”