That's fewer than 2 percent of the 54,750 households on food stamps in any given month. But it's the neediest 2 percent, mostly chronically homeless men and women, say advocates who complain the policy was never publicly vetted.
Early last month, Utah Department of Workforce Services officials declared that, with a few exceptions, all able-bodied adults must be employed or looking for employment to be eligible for food stamps. Previously, homeless people or those with limited education, work histories, and language skills were exempted from the work requirement and could get three months worth of aid.
Workforce services officials alerted clients 30 days in advance of their losing their benefits. But they made the policy change without following Utah's rulemaking law, which requires state agencies to publish proposed rules and give the public a chance to comment before implementing them.
The definition of a rule includes, an action that "provides or prohibits a material benefit" and interprets state or federal law.
Utah's food stamp director Kathy Link argues the policy isn't a rule, but a temporary, emergency fix to keep Utah in line with federal limits on the percentage of food stamps that states may award out-of-work, able-bodied adults.
Utah exceeded its annual limit in July, said Link, adding the policy could remain in place for several months.
Bill Tibbetts, an advocate for the Anti-Hunger Coalition, contends the federal rules are more flexible than state officials like to admit. And he fears the rule change will hurt primarily homeless men and women and burden local food pantries.
"In the past, Utah has never exhausted its limit and should be able to roll over cases from last year or borrow from next year's allotment," said Tibbetts. "I'm not sure why state officials kept this under wraps. It makes you wonder, are there other major changes in policy that we don't know about?" email@example.com" Target="_BLANK">firstname.lastname@example.org