More than 500,000 Americans could lose access to food stamps within the coming months, as newly reinstated requirements mean able-bodied adults without dependent children must find work to continue receiving assistance.
The benefits, offered by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provide access to food for many of the nation’s poorest adults and children. In 1996, during a period of welfare reform, a new law required working-age adults without dependent children to work at least 80 hours per month, or be enrolled in a training program for an equal amount of time, to continue receiving benefits. Otherwise, they were only eligible to receive assistance for three months out of every three-year period.
This requirement was lifted federally in 2009, when the economic recession was in full swing and unemployment was on the rise. Once the economy began to improve, many states began to look to this legislation to get people working again.
On Jan. 1, 22 states reinstated work requirements for food stamps, leaving only seven states -- California, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Rhode Island and South Carolina -- and the District of Columbia without such requirements in at least part of the state.
The new requirements could affect up to 500,000 adults aged 18-49 who may be ineligible for SNAP benefits if they cannot find work within the next few months, according to Stateline, a magazine published by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Although work requirements have proved effective in some cases -- in Kansas, 12,807 of the 25,913 people enrolled in SNAP left the program after the work requirement was reinstated, and half were able to find employment within three months -- they can also become a hindrance if jobs or training programs are unavailable within a particular state.
States can apply for exceptions to the work requirement from the federal government if the unemployment rate is greater than 10 percent or if they can prove a severe lack of jobs. Many states have chosen not to do so, citing a desire to motivate residents to seek employment.
These requirements affect mostly poor and uneducated adults, with an average household income of about $3,768 a year, and of whom one in four didn’t graduate high school.