Food stamp recipients in 21 states have two more months to find employment or job-training programs before they lose their benefits. The newly reinstated requirements could impact over nearly 1.1 million Americans.
45 million U.S. residents receive food stamp benefits but able-bodied adults aged 18 to 49 are required to either work, volunteer or receive job training for 80 hours a month or lose their benefits after a period of three months.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted waivers to most states following the 2008 economic collapse, when employment became scarce across the country. Now, with an improving economy and rising job market, 21 states have lost their waivers starting Jan. 1, 2016.
Mississippi, New Mexico and West Virginia all have high unemployment rates and still qualify for statewide waivers but have refused them, NPR reports.
States that could see the most dramatic number of food stamp recipients kicked off the program are Florida with 300,000, Tennessee with 150,000 and North Carolina with 110,000, according to the Associated Press.
States such as Wisconsin and Maine, which have imposed work requirements over the past two years, have seen the majority of their able-bodied food-stamp recipients lose their benefits, ABC News reports.
Nonprofit food banks are steeling themselves for a flood of hungry locals and fear that the new work requirements will lead to “very low food security” for thousands.
Critics of the reinstated work requirements state that many food stamp recipients who are deemed “able -bodied” are hobbled by physical and mental disabilities, lack of a high school diploma, criminal records and inability to obtain a driver’s license, WBIR reports.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida president Dave Krepcho said that for “able-bodied” adults who still struggle to find steady employment, the new requirements “means less food, less adequate nutrition.”
“And over the span of time, that can certainly have an impact on health - and the health care system,” Krepcho added.
Those who are in favor of reinstating work requirements counter that some food stamp recipients are using their benefits as an excuse to not seek employment.
“We were seeing a lot of people who were receiving food stamps who weren’t even trying to get a job,” said Republican state Sen. David Sater of Missouri. “I know in my area you can find a temporary job for 20 hours [a week] fairly easily. It just didn’t seem right to me to have somebody doing nothing and receiving food stamps.”