Faulty Premise Leads to “Work Requirements” in Bill that Cuts $39 Billion from Food Stamps

The U.S. House passed a bill last week to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP,” commonly called food stamps) by $39 billion over ten years.  Some House members characterized the bill as an introduction of “work requirements,” but the real effect of the bill would just make it extremely hard for about 168,000 unemployed childless Georgians to qualify for food assistance.

The House bill eliminates waivers states can use during periods of high unemployment to continue to provide food assistance to low-income adults who work or participate in job training less than 20 hours per week.  Without the waivers, about 168,000 Georgians will not be allowed to receive SNAP benefits for more than three months every three years, no matter how diligently they search for a job.

The bill’s push for work requirements is misguided for a couple of reasons: 

  1.  SNAP already has work requirements
  2. The bill will punish unemployed childless adults who desire to work but cannot find a job or an open spot in a job training program

Adults are already required to adhere to work rules for SNAP benefits, unless they are exempted for reasons such as disability.  In addition to the three-month time limit, adults must register for work with the benefits office.  States can also require people who receive SNAP to participate in an employment training program, participate in a workfare program, provide information on employment status, accept job offers, and show justification if their work schedule falls below 30 hours.   

SNAP recipients are not guaranteed slots in job training programs, so unemployed childless SNAP recipients willing to participate will lose benefits after three months if no programs are available to them.  This situation would likely increase food insecurity in Georgia, where currently more than one in six Georgians struggles to get enough to eat.

The bill disregards the fact that the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so.  In Georgia, 75 percent of SNAP households have at least one person who worked in the preceding 12 months. The sad truth is these workers didn’t make enough money to provide for their basic needs.  That may be due to low wages, loss of a job, or a combination of the two.

Other portions of the House bill threaten food assistance for still more Georgians.  States would get an incentive to end benefits for low-income, unemployed adults and their children. More than 200,000 children nationwide would lose access to free school meals. Many of Georgia’s most vulnerable would be required to apply for SNAP benefits again, including some who depend on Supplemental Social Security Income.

Press accounts indicate the House would like to move to a formal conference with the U.S. Senate soon to reconcile differences between their respective farming and nutrition bills.  Those discussions should include a frank confrontation of the painful choices SNAP recipients in Georgia will face if they have one less way to put food on the table.

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