RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — New work requirements for SNAP benefits are set to affect Virginians as part of the national debt ceiling deal.

As part of the deal negotiated by President Joe Biden and Republicans to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt, more people could be subject to work requirements to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, referred to as SNAP.

Current law requires all able-bodied people between the ages of 18 and 49 without kids to work or take part in a training program to receive SNAP. New guidelines will increase the age to 54.

Sonny Hoge with the Liberation Church Food Pantry in Richmond says the change comes at a bad time. 

“The month of April, we served over 1,600 households, and in the month of May we served over 1,800 households,” Hoge said. “So the increase was over 200 households just in a month. People are being squeezed on every level and every need, and food is one of them.”

According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 850,000 Virginians rely on SNAP. 

Hoge says the influx of clients is a new trend after the federal government ended pandemic-era emergency SNAP payments when the COVID-19 national and public health emergencies ended on May 11.

“Once they announced them reducing the SNAP benefits that they allotted during the COVID season,” Hoge explained. “Taking that away from folks. Yeah, it’s increased over the last month.” 

Hoge says adding more requirements to receiving benefits may lead to more people in search of their next meal.

“It could, and it probably will,” Hoge told 8News. “I just think…them taking away the extra money and the prices of everything have gone up. We are just going to continue to see it.”

The work or training requirements for SNAP do have exceptions including for veterans, those with a physical or mental disability, young adults transitioning from foster care and those who are pregnant.