Should Eligibility for Food Stamps Be More Restrictive?

Upon releasing new rules that will make it more difficult for “able-bodied” adults to receive food stamps, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue explained, “Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work. This rule lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them.”1

The revised qualification requirements, announced on December 4 by the Department of Agriculture, were long-expected new rules regarding the eligibility of individuals for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. The way the program currently works, “able-bodied working adults” with no dependents are eligible for SNAP benefits for three months out of every three years, unless they are enrolled in an education or training program for at least 80 hours per month or are working at least 20 hours per week.2

The issue for the Trump administration is that the program has given states wide leeway to allow some counties’ residents to spend longer periods of time on SNAP. Until now, in order to grant such a waiver, a county’s unemployment rate could be as low as 6.5 percent, while the threshold had been as low as 2.5 percent before last week. Therefore, according to the administration, thousands of people have been collecting food stamps for many months and years longer than they should have been.

In its announcement, the Department of Agriculture reported that this change in the rule will mean that approximately 688,000 people will be dropped from SNAP in the near future. The expected savings is estimated to be $5.5 billion over five years.3

After the new rules were announced, Representative Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who chairs the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, criticized the stricter requirements. “This is an unacceptable escalation of the administration’s war on working families, and it comes during a time when too many are forced to stretch already-thin budgets to make ends meet,” she said. “The USDA is the Grinch that stole Christmas. Shame on them.”4

So, should the federal government make it more difficult for people to be eligible for food stamps? Or are these changes an unnecessary burden on those who are trying to make ends meet?

When considering these questions, students should first understand how a person becomes eligible for SNAP.

Eligibility Requirements

Applicants must have INCOMES below certain levels, based on household size. A household is defined as people who live together and eat meals together. Applicants may have RESOURCES, but they must be below a certain level:

  • $2,000 for most households
  • $3,000 for a household with an elderly person (age 60 or older) or a disabled person
  • Most states exempt one or more vehicles from household resources
  • A household’s home does not count as a resource5

1. Do these requirements seem reasonable? Is there anything you would change or add? Why?

An immigrant is eligible to apply for SNAP benefits if he/she:

  • Has been in the United States as a legal resident for five years
  • Is a documented immigrant child (not born in the United States)
  • Has earned, or can be credited with, 40 quarters of work
  • Is a refugee or asylee
  • Has a military connection
  • Is a member of certain Indian tribes6

2. Should immigrants who meet these requirements be eligible for food stamps? Why or why not? (You may wish to use discretion as to whether this question is appropriate in your class.)

3. Research the impact of SNAP in your state using this resource from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

    • About what percentage of residents in your state use SNAP? How does this compare to the national average? What aspects of the economy in your state might contribute to the difference between your state and the national average?
    • What types of workers in your state are most likely to use SNAP?
    • How does your state’s SNAP profile compare to those of other nearby or similar states? What may account for any differences?

4. After doing some research, read the following:

5. The Department of Agriculture is considering two more rules that would further restrict eligibility for food stamps. Read the following opinion pieces about current and potential reforms:

    • From National Review
    • From the Los Angeles Times
    • What are the strongest arguments in each article? What values are important to the writers of each piece?
    • Do you believe the reforms to SNAP make sense or go too far? How?



Featured Image Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP
[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture:
[2] Washington Post:
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] U.S. Department of Agriculture:
[6] Ibid.


The Death Penalty: A Just Punishment?

On November 15, 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals suspended the execution of Rodney Reed and sent his case back to trial, due to new witness testimony that pointed to his innocence and raised concerns about how evidence was handled during the initial trial.1 Since 1977, at least 166 inmates have been released from death row after new evidence came forward or problems were found in the trial procedures.2  

Currently, 29 states have death penalty laws, and the federal government recently announced that it would resume executions after a 16-year hiatus. Attorney General William Barr has scheduled five death sentences to be carried out by the end of the year, all in cases involving horrifying murder (and, in some cases, sexual assault as well). Seven states have carried out 20 executions this year,3 the lowest number since 1976, when the Supreme Court found in Gregg v. Georgia that the death penalty does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.4 Among the factors hindering the pace of federal executions are the difficulty of obtaining the drugs necessary for lethal injection, as well as declining support for the death penalty among the public,5 possibly due to lower rates of violent crime and the recent exoneration of some death row inmates.6

On November 25, 2019, Gallup released the results of a new survey indicating for the first time that Americans now prefer life in prison with no possibility of parole over the death penalty when a person is convicted of murder. Support for life in prison rose from 45 percent in 2014 to 60 percent in the most recent survey; support for the death penalty dropped from 50 percent to 36 percent. However, 56 percent of Americans still broadly support the death penalty, even if they prefer life in prison as punishment for convicted murderers.7 

Although capital punishment has been a controversial issue for decades, researchers from the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that tracks death penalty statistics, noted that “[t]his year has had an extraordinarily high percentage of cases in which there is very serious evidence that people who did not commit the killing are being subjected to death warrants.”8 As such, policymakers are considering and reconsidering whether or not the death penalty is an appropriate way to deliver justice. 

Both supporters and opponents of the death penalty are vehemently opposed to any innocent person being put to death. But supporters insist that some crimes are so terrible that death is the only suitable punishment. They also argue that the possibility of a death sentence helps prevent crime from happening in the first place.9 In response to Attorney General Barr’s decision to schedule executions for five federal prisoners, victims’ advocates pointed out that some families find it extremely painful to wait years or decades for an execution that they see as closure and justice for their loved one(s).10 For his part, President Donald Trump supports the death penalty and has called for using capital punishment for mass shooters and drug traffickers.11 

Opponents of the death penalty point to inmates like Reed, who was convicted and sentenced to death even though his blood did not match the blood found under the victim’s fingernails and observers have contested the legitimacy of the central evidence in his case.12 Critics argue that the justice system can be flawed, and that there is always a risk that an innocent person could be executed. Opponents also note that even when guilt is certain—as it was in the case of Daniel Lewis Lee, who was convicted of murdering a couple and their child—judgments of who receives the death penalty can be arbitrary and unfair. For example, Lee’s co-conspirator, Chevie Kehoe, received a life sentence even though most accounts point to Kehoe as instigating the violence.13

For further reading on the death penalty, please see Close Up in Class’ Controversial Issue in the News on the subject.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you support the death penalty? Why or why not? 
  2. What type(s) of crime, if any, should warrant the death penalty? 
  3. How should policymakers respond to the problem of potentially innocent people serving on death row? 
  4. How should public opinion factor into death penalty decisions made by judges and justices? 



Featured Image Credit: Associated Press 
[1] New York Times:
[2] New York Times:
[3] Reuters:
[4] Oyez:
[5] Reuters:
[6] Gallup:
[7] Ibid.
[8] New York Times:
[9] BBC:
[10] The Gazette:
[12] New York Times:
[13] Los Angeles Times: