Nearly 30,000 Missouri residents lost access to food stamps after no longer meeting work requirements enforced by a state law, which prevented the state from extending benefits to welfare recipients without jobs.
The Missouri Department of Social Services reported that on April 1, benefits stopped for about 26,000 of the 830,000 Missourians receiving food stamps from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to the Columbia Tribune. This cut back the state’s welfare rolls for the program, which allows low-income and unemployed residents to purchase food, by about 3 percent.
The cutbacks came after new law SB 24 enforced work requirements for recipients of food stamps, which stipulate that childless, able-bodied adults need to work at least 20 hours per week or participate in a job training program in order to continue to receive benefits. Otherwise, food stamps will be limited to three months out of every three years. A 1996 welfare reform law allowed states to request exemptions from the law in cases of severe unemployment, which Missouri did until SB 24 prevented the state from renewing its exceptions policy, according to KTVI.
After the state legislature overrode the governor’s veto in September 2015, the law went into effect Jan. 1, 2016, leaving a three-month window for those who didn’t meet criteria to try to find a job or a training program. That window expired April 1, leaving nearly 30,000 residents without food stamps. Glenn Koenen, the Hunger Task Force Chair with the organization advocacy organization Empower Missouri, said that the effects have increased socioeconomic disparity within the state, according to The Missouri Times.
“We’ve created a new class of Missourians,” Koenen said in a statement. “We now have legislated that some of our neighbors are too poor to get help from anti-poverty programs.”
The goal of the legislation, according to The Missouri Times, was to encourage people to find work and eventually raise themselves up out of poverty. However, organizations such as Empower Missouri believe that the loss of food assistance will only drive people further into poverty, as well as stress food banks that are not prepared to cope with an influx of people who no longer have access to food.