More than 1 million of the nation’s low-income residents may soon be denied access to food stamps.
According to the Associated Press, 21 states have decided to reinstate work requirements for food stamps in response to an improving economy and falling unemployment. People who fail to meet these requirements - which include seeking employment and working or participating in a job training program for at least 80 hours a month - within three months will lose access to government food stamps.
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which was part of a 1996 welfare reform law signed by President Bill Clinton, created these requirements but allowed states to waive them in times of economic distress. Nearly every state was granted a waiver by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the 2008 financial crisis; however, now that conditions appear to be improving, many state waivers have expired.
The work requirements apply to those labeled “able-bodied adults,” which the government describes as people aged 18-49 who have no children or other dependents and who are not currently on disability. Nationwide, nearly 1.1 million adults fit this description in the 21 states where work requirements were reinstated this month, including 300,000 in Florida, 150,000 in Tennessee and 110,000 in North Carolina, according to AP.
Nationwide statistics indicate that of this number, a significant portion will be unable to meet the work requirements, and thus will be denied SNAP benefits. Of 4.7 million food stamp recipients that are deemed able-bodied adults without dependents across the country, only 1 in 4 is employed. In states such as Wisconsin, which implemented work requirements in 2015, two-thirds of eligible recipients were cut off after three months because they were unable to find work.
Those seeking to meet the work requirements face numerous obstacles; despite rising employment figures, jobs are not easy to find everywhere, and food stamp recipients are disproportionately likely to be struggling with other issues such as PTSD from military service or release from prison.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has proposed stretching the time limit from three to six months to match the average duration of unemployment benefits, reports the Washington Examiner.