As many as 172 Wallowa County residents may lose federal food assistance (SNAP) benefits when new federal rules go into effect in April. The program will then require that able bodied adults work a minimum of 20 hours per week to qualify for assistance. A total of 939 people currently receive the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance in Wallowa County, according to the most recent Oregon Dept. of Human Services figures.
An estimated 19,500 Oregonians may be dropped from SNAP in April. The food assistance benefits come via a charge card that is run through a supermarket card terminal, and will only pay for approved grocery items. Recipients do not receive a check for food purchases.
The Trump administration’s new eligibility rules for the SNAP benefits program, formerly known as food stamps, will require that able-bodied adults work 20 hours or more per week to qualify for the assistance. If they are not working as required, they will be eligible for assistance for only three months in a three year period.
The new federal rule, finalized Dec. 5, will be implemented April 1.
The most recent DHS data — from June — listed 939 SNAP recipients in Wallowa County, which has a population of just over 7,000. Of them, 172 are listed as able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs). They could be targeted by the new rule change, Jennifer Grentz, a DHS media contact, said Tuesday, Dec. 31. She said she could not speak to whether the 172 local adults in that category would have their benefits changed.
In places where unemployment is high and jobs scarce, DHS allows local offices to waive the work requirement for SNAP benefits. Grentz said Wallowa County does provide this waiver for SNAP recipients.
Wallowa County’s unemployment rate during the past year fluctuated widely compared to the rest of Oregon. It is lowest during the tourist season, and highest in late winter and early spring. The jobless rate here was 4.3% in October, down from 9.9% in March, according to the Federal Reserve Economic Data. Oregon’s overall jobless rate is a relatively steady 4.1%. according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Several other counties are in a similar position to Wallowa, according to Matt Newell-Ching, a public affairs specialist with DHS.
In fact, the numbers of likely affected SNAP recipients vary widely. In July, the Associated Press estimated that 3.1 million people would be affected nationally. AP’s estimate dropped Dec. 7 to 680,000, about the same time DHS estimated 700,000.
“The reality is that many folks face barriers that make it hard for them to find and keep full-time work but don’t easily check neatly into an exemption box,” he said.
Grentz said the agency’s central office has received no calls from SNAP recipients wondering how the rule change may affect them. She was unaware if any branch offices had received such calls.
Grentz also said that with Wallowa County’s wide fluctuation in its jobless rate, SNAP recipients who only work part of the year could be affected.
“SNAP eligibility alters as recipients report household income changes to the department,” she said.
SNAP data can be found at Oregon.gov/DHS/assistance/pages/data.aspx.