Nearly 30,000 Pennsylvania residents could reportedly be at risk of losing their food stamp benefits next year, as the state begins to again enforce certain work requirements for beneficiaries of the program.
The work requirements for food stamp (officially known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) beneficiaries were put in place in 1996 with the federal welfare reform laws. The requirements have been suspended in Pennsylvania and many other states because of high unemployment rates during the recent recession, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
A return to the requirements would mean certain individuals will be subject to a three-month limit on assistance. After such a time, individuals would be required to work, volunteer or attend a work-training program for a minimum 20 hours a week in order to maintain benefits.
These work requirements would apply to all individuals applying for food stamps between the ages of 18 and 50 who aren't disabled or raising minor children.
In Pennsylvania, the rules will not be applied evenly geographically, which will allow certain areas with high unemployment or other employment issues to be exempt from the rules or have the rules waived.
In North Carolina — another state returning to the work requirements in 2016 — the requirements begin Jan. 1 with a phased implementation in urban counties with lower unemployment numbers, the Citizen-Times reported. More rural counties will not put the rules into effect until July 1. It is estimated that about half of the state’s 200,000 food stamp recipients could be affected.
A report issued by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities earlier this year found that about 1 million people nationwide could be at risk of losing benefits over the course of 2016, according to the Gazette.
“These individuals will lose their food assistance benefits after three months regardless of how hard they are looking for work,” the report read.
Ed Bolen, the author of the report, suggested that the rule is too broad for states and individuals to work with.
“This rule would mean if you are working 18 hours a week and you want another shift, you still get cut off," he told the Gazette. "You could be looking for a job 30 hours a week, you would still get cut off,” he said, calling the rule a time limit rather than a work requirement.
“It’s not a work requirement that helps people get work,” Bolen added. “It’s just a harsh rule that states are struggling to deal with.”