South Dakota’s lone member for U.S. House of Representatives is backing the Trump administration’s plan to add work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  

The change would require most able-bodied adults to work at least 20 hours. There are a number of exceptions, including special protections for Native American reservations.  

Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) supports the plan from the USDA. In a Tuesday U.S. House subcommittee hearing, Johnson heard about the potential impacts this  change would have.   

The USDA estimates 755,000 people in 2020 would not meet the requirements. 


“First off I would say that anybody who is able to work, volunteer, go to school or be in a training program is not going to lose any food stamps. Nobody, nobody is getting kicked off this program as long as they’re willing to work  20 hours a week or do other exercises, programs, activities that qualify,” Johnson said. “Now… if you’re able-bodied and don’t want to work, then as a society, we really need to ask why we are providing you access to programs.”


Republicans tried to put this in the Farm Bill this year, but weren’t able to get it into the final version signed by President Trump. So, the Department of Agriculture announced this rule change in February.

“Everyone who can work, should work,” Johnson said. 



   There are 31,549 people on SNAP benefits in South Dakota, according to USDA data. Nearly 30 percent of recipients in the state are  Native American. Johnson said this change wouldn’t impact the reservations. 


“There is flexibility in the current law that will allow special waivers for areas like Indian reservations that are dealing with high unemployment and what the administration wants to do wouldn’t touch those areas at all,” Johnson said. “What we want to do is in other areas, areas with low unemployment. Let’s get rid of these gimmicks, loopholes in waivers. Let’s get people back to work.”        

       In the committee hearing, Democrats were strongly against the proposed rule change.   

“There is no dignity in taking food away from the poorest and most vulnerable of our citizens. It is dishonest and immoral for anyone to assume or suggest that poor people do not want to work, especially if that work only pays an average of $125 a month,” Rep.  Marcia Fudge (D-OH) said in her opening remarks. 


Fudge is the chairwoman of the subcommittee. She said the rule change fails to consider unemployment is not a standalone problem.  

“I want to make it very clear: people want a hand up, not a hand out, and it is insulting to suggest otherwise,” Fudge said. 

Johnson argued about people in South Dakota who struggle, but works hard.

“Part of what does irritate me able people who feel that able-bodied folks shouldn’t have to work is that I know so many people in South Dakota who have developmental disabilities or struggle with literacy or struggle with reliable transportation or who are caring for somebody at home who still go out of their way to work.” Johnson said. 


     Johnson said we need to stop thinking about how much people  can’t do and focus on how much people can do.   

“Work is not punishment. Work is opportunity,” Johnson said.    

There was a public comment period that generated nearly 75,000 comments.   Many of them are against the proposed rule change like this one:

    “Your decisions in regard to the poor are not just immoral and pathetic, they should be a crime,” Eva Knight said. 

The public comments closed this week, but will re-open due to a technical glitch according to the USDA. The public will have the chance to comment again from April 8-10.