One Million Americans Are About to Lose Their Food Stamp Benefits

One million of the nation’s poorest people will be cut from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program by the end of 2016 even if they're actively pursuing work, according to Center of Budget Policy and Priorities

Better known by its former name, the Food Stamp program, in some areas SNAP will reinstate a three-month limit on benefits for unemployed adults between 18-50 who are not disabled or raising children. These individuals will lose SNAP even if they are unable to find jobs and not part of job training programs that meet the requirements for food assistance benefits. Many states do not have such programs.

Since the 2008 Bush recession, states were given a waiver that allowed them to offer SNAP benefits for longer periods of time to individuals who had fallen on hard times. Federal welfare laws enacted in 1996 had limited benefits for these individuals to three months of any 36-month period when they aren’t employed or in a work or in a job training program. In the past several years, the three-month limit hasn’t been in effect in most states.

But with unemployment falling to 5.8 percent the waivers will disappear from the 40 states where they're still in effect, leaving those still struggling to find work without food assistance benefits.

“Because this provision denies basic food assistance to people who want to work and will accept any job or work program slot offered, it is effectively a severe time limit rather than a work requirement, as such requirements are commonly understood," says the CBPP’s report.  “Work requirements in public assistance programs typically require people to look for work and accept any job or employment program slot that is offered but do not cut off people who are willing to work and looking for a job simply because they can’t find one."

Welfare laws allow for states to suspend the three-month limit in areas they identify to have high and sustained unemployment, but fewer areas in fewer states now qualify for this waiver. By 2016, the CBPP says that only a few states will qualify and about one million SNAP recipients will lose their assistance as a result. SNAP assistance averages to be approximately $150 to $200 per individual a month.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Department says that many people that will be subject to the three-month limit will have average monthly incomes of approximately 19 percent of the poverty line, and they typically qualify for no other income support.

About one third are over 40-years of age. Among current SNAP recipients, half are white, a third are African American and one tenth are Hispanic.

“Many in this population, which generally has limited education and skills and limited job prospects, struggle to find employment even in normal economic times,” says the report.  

The report urges Congress to revise the current welfare laws to allow for benefits to continue for those who are pursuing work, allowing a job search or job training to count toward a requirement. However, the reports authors think such action is unlikely given the make-up of the incoming 114th Congress.

Congressional watchers, in fact, say that this Congress will likely cut SNAP benefits even further. Conservative Republicans sought to kill the SNAP waivers previously, but a compromise was made on legislation last year that allowed them to remain. Some states have already reimposed the three-month limit.

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