Federal changes to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) finalized Thursday mean at least 19,000 Oregonians could lose government food assistance, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services.  

The rule, set to take effect April 1, would restrict states’ ability to allow certain adults to receive benefits for more than three months in a three-year period if they aren’t working or training for at least 20 hours a week.

Those restrictions will apply to “able-bodied adults without dependents.”  

“This rule could apply to you if you are between the ages of 18 and 50, if you do not have a child under the age of 18 living with you and if you’re having trouble finding full-time work and don’t meet another exemption,” said Matt Newell-Ching, public affairs director with the Portland nonprofit Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon.  

Newell-Ching encourages people to reach out to their DHS caseworker to confirm whether the new rule will affect them.  

In a news release Friday, DHS said the rule is expected to affect 700,000 SNAP recipients nationally.  

In rolling out the SNAP benefit changes Thursday, federal officials said they’re intended to move people toward “self-sufficiency.” 

“SNAP was created to provide people with the help they need to feed themselves and their families, but it was not intended to be a permanent lifestyle,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We want to provide the nutrition people need, but we also want to help them transition from government programs, back to work, and into lives of independence.”

Currently, 31 of Oregon’s 36 counties can issue waivers to extend SNAP benefits for longer than the three-month time restriction, but this new rule would cut that to just six counties being eligible for the waiver, according to DHS.  

Those counties would be Crook, Curry, Grant, Harney, Wallowa and Klamath. 

“Currently, the time limits do apply in the Portland metro area and several other parts of the state,” Newell-Ching said. “Under the new rule, nearly all counties in Oregon would have to implement time limits. So it would take it from applying only to certain parts of the state, to nearly all parts of the state — rural counties, coastal counties.”  

The new rule requires that areas requesting waivers must have unemployment rates “at least 20% higher than the national rate but not less than 6%,” according to DHS.  

Newell-Ching said his organization will try to block the rule before it goes into effect.  

“We intend to be a part of a coalition that will bring a legal challenge, and other states, I’m sure, will participate in this as well,” he said.  

The new rule “punishes people for effectively not being able to secure consistent, full-time work and we think that’s wrong, counterproductive and will hurt our communities,” Newell-Ching said.  

Fariborz Pakseresht, Department of Human Services director, said in a statement: “For those already facing difficult circumstances, this rule exacerbates those circumstances. It also will result in an increased burden on food banks and other community resources to fill the void.”