Certification Policy Branch
SNAP Program Development Division
Food and Nutrition Service, USDA
3101 Park Center Drive
Alexandria, Virginia 22302
RE: Opposition to Proposed Rule regarding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents; RIN 0584-AE57
Dear Certification Policy Branch:
[I/we] oppose USDA’s proposed rule on SNAP time limits and services for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs). The proposed changes would cause serious harm to thousands of unemployed or underemployed people but especially people directly and indirectly impacted by criminal justice institutions.
[FILL IN INFORMATION ABOUT YOU, your city or your organization’s mission]. SAMPLE TEXT
I am a member of JustLeadershipUSA, an organization dedicated to cutting the corrections population in half by 2030. As a formerly incarcerated person myself, I know firsthand how important SNAP benefits are for a person who is transitioning back into their community after incarceration. I tried for months to find employment but was unsuccessful time and time again because employers would not hire me because of my criminal record. SNAP was the only source of food that I could rely upon during this time.
Proposed Rule Reduces SNAP Benefits and Harms Communities
Federal law currently limits SNAP eligibility for ABAWDs if they are not working 20 hours a week or an average of 80 hours a month. These work requirements are onerous for people directly impacted by the criminal legal system because of the myriad barriers to employment stemming from a criminal record. Research shows that unemployment among formerly incarcerated people hovers around 27%; higher than national unemployment rates during the Great Depression. By limiting states’ abilities to provide work requirement waivers in high unemployment areas the Trump Administration will only exacerbate food insecurity and prevent directly impacted people and their families from going hungry during a time when they need it most as they transition home following incarceration.
Under the law, states can request a waiver of the time limit for areas within the state that have 10 percent or higher unemployment rates or, based on other economic indicators, have “insufficient jobs.” Moreover, states have discretion to exempt individuals from the time limit by utilizing a pool of exemptions (referred to as “15 percent exemptions). While the 2018 Farm Bill modified the number of exemptions that states can receive each year from 15 percent to 12 percent, it did not change their ability to carry over unused exemptions forward.
The proposed rule would further limit these waivers and expose even more people to the arbitrary food cutoff policy by limiting state flexibility regarding area waivers and individual exemptions. By the Administration’s own calculations, the proposed rule would take food away from 755,000 low-income people, cutting food benefits by $15 billion over ten years. The proposed rule would make it harder for areas with elevated unemployment rates to qualify for waivers of the time limit by adding a 7 percent unemployment rate floor as a condition. [Insert one or two sentences about food insecurity in the state and/or city where you live and how further reducing SNAP benefits would only worsen this situation.. Include information about the positive impacts that SNAP has for health and well-being and why cutting off these benefits would be devastating to for the people in these communities. —see a list of examples of SNAP Benefits at http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/frac-facts-snap-strengths.pdf]
Proposed Rule Will Disparately Harm Justice Involved Individuals
This proposed rule will specifically affect people directly impacted by the criminal justice system. As stated previously, the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is approximately 27%; within the first year of release it is approximately 60%. Further limiting food security for people who already face myriad barriers to employment is cruel and would negate any of the criminal justice reforms the President and Congress supported in the FIRST STEP Act.
Second, studies have proven that SNAP restrictions can increase recidivism rates. SNAP provides critical support and stability as people return home from incarceration. For example, 70% of formerly incarcerated individuals in the Boston Reentry Study received SNAP benefits within two months of their release. But many of these people return home to communities facing chronic, high unemployment due to disinvestment in their community over years if not decades. Research has shown that recidivism rates can increase as much as 58% when harsher SNAP restrictions are implemented. These types of policies only increase corrections costs and the social harms inflicted upon these people and their communities.
Third, these proposed rules contradict President Trump’s support for criminal justice system reform including the First Step Act (FSA). Individuals who will be eligible for release under the FSA will be entering a society that not only bars them from gainful employment, but with this rule further excludes them from basic human needs. If President Trump and his administration truly support the FSA policies intended to help people leaving incarceration, he and the USDA will withdraw this proposed rule that will increase recidivism, increase hunger, and increase government spending due to increased corrections costs.
[Insert information about how SNAP benefits have helped people in your state/network] directly affected by the criminal justice system, either by incarceration or having a criminal record.
A society that punishes directly impacted people long after they have completed their sentence only perpetuates the the harm of the criminal justice system while denying these people basic human needs.
[I/We] strongly oppose the proposed rule that would expose even more people to arbitrary SNAP food cutoff policy and harm our community.
 Prison Policy Initiative, Out of Prison & Out of Work: Unemployment Among Formerly Incarcerated People (Northampton: Prison Policy Initiative, 2018).
 Tuttle, Cody. Snapping Back: Food Stamp Bans and Criminal Recidivism (College Park: University of Maryland, College Park, 2018)