A Trump administration plan to tighten food stamp eligibility would mean fewer benefits for hundreds of residents in Anderson County, where poverty rates exceed the national average.
Nationwide, the change would remove benefits for 700,000 people, saving the federal government up to $5 billion over three years.
Changes target able-bodied adults, ages 18 to 49, without dependents.
In counties with less than 10 percent unemployment, these recipients generally will need to document 20 hours of work a week for benefits – a difficult task, critics say, for caregivers and those seeking jobs that pay more than the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage.
In Anderson County, the poverty rate is nearly 16 percent – more than two percent higher than the national average. With an unemployment rate of only 2.8 percent, however, the “working poor” are going to pay a steep price, Anderson County Democratic Party Chairperson Sharon Davis told the Herald-Press.
“We, the richest county in the world, should not have anyone, particularly the working poor, going hungry,” Davis said. With housing costs, she said, minimum-wage earners need some assistance to live.
The plan, announced last week by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, is set to go into effect in April of next year.
Congressional Democrats have already threatened to sue if the rule goes into effect.
The changes, Davis said, also put more pressure on state and local governments, as well as non-profit food-banks and churches.
Josh Petty, an Anderson County resident who received food stamps for three months, said the eligibility requirements are already high.
“It is not a handout to freeloaders like our current administration thinks,” Petty told the Herald-Press Monday. “You must meet certain economical hardships; it is also embarrassing and degrading to many to have to seek help simply to feed themselves.”
Petty, 38, now a registered nurse, said when he was unemployed for three months under the current program, he received only $15 a month in food stamps.
“This is simply declaring war on poor people,” he said. “These people are already struggling. They worry if they can pay rent, or afford heat through the winter, or life saving prescriptions.”
Half the nation's workers earn less than $18,000 a year. Poverty for a single adult, as defined by the federal government, is $12,500 a year.
Brandy Lovelady, a lifetime Anderson County resident, said when she returned from service in the U.S. Navy she struggled to find employment, but couldn't receive food stamps because of her Veterans Administration benefits.
“It was all I had,” she said. “ I hit up food banks, and stayed in a homeless shelter; I found a way to get by.”
Lovelady said making eligibility more difficult might lead to dire consequences for some.