New work requirements which came into force at the beginning of the year threaten between 500,000 and 1 million people with the loss of food stamps across the United States.
Florida is one of the most fully affected states, with up to 300,000 able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 coming under the new regulations, the Madison County Carrier reported.
Adults in this age group who have no children now have to work, undertake training, or volunteer for at least 20 hours per week in order to retain their food stamps. This regulation came into force in 21 states Jan. 1.
Those who fail to meet these requirements are able to collect just three months of food stamps in a 36-month period.
Government officials argued in favor of reintroducing the work provisions because statewide unemployment has dropped to 4.9 percent. The federal government waived the work provisions on the food stamp program during the height of the economic crisis in 2009.
But others disagree. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities noted that 21 counties in Florida continue to have jobless rates high enough to make them eligible for a waiver.
“A few southeastern states are electing to re-implement the time limit statewide even though some or all of the state qualifies for a waiver,” the organization added, according to the Carrier.
A total of 67,982 Floridians were sanctioned for not meeting the requirements during the first month of the new regulations, even though there is a three-month time limit. A sanction means the recipient loses food stamps for at least one month or the period of time in which they do not qualify for the work requirement, whichever is longer.
In Mississippi, 50,000 are threatened with the loss of their benefits.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi refused to allow the state’s Department of Human Services to apply to the federal government for a waiver.
“The decision not to seek a federal waiver from the really harsh time limit was certainly not because the economy has recovered and there are an abundance of available jobs,” Matt Williams, a policy associate at the Mississippi Center for Justice, told the Jackson Clarion Ledger. “In fact, jobs are really scarce.”
Statewide unemployment is around 7 percent, but in Issaquena County, it was as high as 21 percent in February. Several other counties had double digit unemployment levels.