A new rule approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture means hundreds of thousands of Americans, including thousands of Oklahomans, could lose access to food benefits.
This new rule includes new work requirements for people receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as "SNAP" or "food stamps."
Under the current rules, adults without a disability can't receive benefits for more than 3 months during a 3-year period unless they're working or in an education program for 80 hours a month.
However, states can issue waivers to that due to economic issues. Every state except Delaware has used those waivers during the last two decades
The new USDA rule will make it more difficult for states to issue those waivers.
The department went ahead with the changes despite an overwhelmingly negative reaction during the public comment period.
The Secretary of Agriculture said the new rule is about "moving more able-bodied Americans to self-sufficiency."
The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma said about 800,000 Oklahomans are currently on food stamps, but this will especially impact those living in rural areas.
"The rural communities are using snap at a greater rate now than in urban areas, so in communities where employment is much more difficult to find, you're going to see people – especially untrained, unskilled workers – are unemployed longer," said Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma Communications Manager, Greg Raskin.
Raskin said millions of dollars from those using SNAP benefits is poured back into small Oklahoma towns, which could see an impact with these cuts.
"Not only is this going to hurt individuals who are struggling to make ends meet, struggling to get by, struggling to get enough to eat, but it’s also going to damage local economies," said Raskin.
Oklahoma's Department of Human Services said it will abide by the new federal rules. Here is their full statement:
"SNAP food benefits are 100% federally-funded. If there is a change to federal SNAP policies, OKDHS would abide by those policies."
It's estimated this will affect about 700 thousand Americans, but the USDA is expected to introduce two new rules that could see an additional 3 million Americans lose benefits.