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The Trump administration on Wednesday tightened work requirements for food stamp recipients, a move that will potentially affect hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the program.
The new rule is the first of three proposals targeting the Supplemental Nutrition Program, known as SNAP, which feeds more than 36 million people.
The plan will limit states from exempting work-eligible adults from having to maintain steady employment to receive benefits. The Agriculture Department estimates the change would save roughly $5.5 billion over five years and cut benefits for nearly 700,000 SNAP recipients.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a House Agriculture Committee hearing. (AP)
Under current rules, work-eligible, able-bodied adults between 18 and 49 and without dependents can receive only three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period if they don't meet the 20-hour work requirement. States with high unemployment rates or a lack of sufficient jobs can waive those time limits.
Under the new rule, states can only issue waivers if a city or county has an unemployment rate of 6 percent or higher. The waivers will be good for one year and will require the governor to support the request.
The final rule will be published in the federal register Thursday and go into effect in April.
Congressional Democrats were quick to condemn the administration's actions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blasted the Trump administration's efforts to reduce public benefits.
"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," Pelosi said in a statement.
Brandon Lipps, deputy under secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, did not say when the department will finalize the other two proposed rules.
The Urban Institute in a study released last month estimated that, when taken together, the three measures would affect roughly 2.2 million households and 3.7 million individual beneficiaries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.