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New restrictions on food stamp program will affect 900 local recipients 

At the direction of the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced tighter work requirements for some food stamp recipients on Dec. 4 that will likely affect San Luis Obispo County recipients.

click to enlarge FOOD BENEFITS More than 900 local CalFresh recipients will be affected by a new Trump administration rule. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • FOOD BENEFITS More than 900 local CalFresh recipients will be affected by a new Trump administration rule.

During public comment at the Dec. 10 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, SLO Food Bank CEO Kevin Drabinski urged the board to not just oppose the new rule but understand the local benefits of the program—the board only accepted the information and took no further action.

"Access to healthy food is a basic need in this community, and in addition to the food bank, CalFresh supports the vital safety net in this county," Drabinski said.

CalFresh, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provides a monthly nutrition benefit in the form of an electronic benefit transaction (EBT) card. The card is used to purchase groceries at markets, small retailers, and farmers' markets.

The new rule, which will go into effect April 1, 2020, requires able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents to work at least 20 hours a week or else lose their benefits.

The program rules already limit recipients to three months of benefits in a three-year period unless they meet the 20-hours-per-week requirement.

The SLO County Department of Social Services could not be reached for comment.

Maria Gardner, a deputy director with Santa Barbara County Social Services, said the state could apply for waivers on behalf of each county to sidestep the 20-hour requirement—but that's changing. Santa Barbara and SLO counties both received waivers in the past, she said. The new rule will make waivers harder to come by, as a county's eligibility will be based on a labor market area.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the intent of the new rule is to move SNAP recipients toward self-sufficiency and into employment.

"We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand," Perdue said in a Department of Agriculture press release.

In his statement to the SLO County Board of Supervisors, Drabinski said that more than 900 people would be ineligible to access CalFresh as a result of the new rule, an estimation from the SLO County Department of Social Services.

"It's estimated at current levels, CalFresh generates $45 million per year in economic activity in SLO County because the food benefit is spent right here locally," he said. "It reduces hunger in a county where 16 percent of our children live in a household that struggles with that issue."

SLO County 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson and 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill called the new rule appalling, ill-advised, and cruel; they moved to direct staff to analyze what it would take to have the board to express its opposition.

Debbie Arnold, 5th District supervisor, objected to the position, stating that the board couldn't take a vote on a non-agendized topic.

"At this time I think it's much more appropriate for each supervisor to write their own letters [of opposition]. Personally, I don't know that we'll come to a conclusion that all of us will agree on for the letter," Arnold said. Δ

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