The primary program that helps struggling Americans afford food, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is at risk of being seriously restricted from helping those in need.
SNAP is the most important and effective anti-hunger program in our country and in our state. We witness the power of SNAP in our work daily.
But the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA, the federal agency that oversees SNAP) is now considering plans to expand harsh time limits on people who receive food stamps. They are taking public comment to hear people’s thoughts on this plan. We must make sure to share the thinking of all anti-hunger advocates:
Cutting off people from food assistance is cruel. This only increases hardship, not reduces it.
What are the current SNAP time limits?
There are already strict rules limiting SNAP food assistance for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs): people age 18-49 who aren’t taking care of a child or household member and who don’t have an officially recognized physical or mental disability. All ABAWDs must spend 20 hours a week working, at a job training program, do a combination of work, or doing community service activities – or some combination of these – to meet the work requirements.
Otherwise, ABAWDS can only receive food assistance for 3 months in a 3-year time period. (You can read more about the rules here.) This has been the case since 1996, though during the recent recession the federal government allowed states to waive the work requirement time limits due to high unemployment.
Why do work requirements with time limits on food assistance not make sense?
Most SNAP recipients (2/3) aren’t expected to work because they are children, seniors, or people with disabilities.
- slightly more than half aren’t working in a given month. Some of them are only temporarily out of work – they have a strong work history, but are between jobs. This is growing more and more commonplace in an economy where full-time full-year work is harder and harder to come by.
- Others are out of work for longer periods, often because they are caregivers (either for children or other family members) or because they have health limitations that don’t rise to the level of qualifying for disability benefits.
In other words: most ABAWDS are working. If they’re not, arbitrary work requirements they can’t meet aren’t going to help them. Making it harder for them to afford food certainly won’t help the situation. And calling these requirements “workforce development” is cruel.
Our government spends far too little on real workforce development: job creation, skills training, education, and helping match people to local industries. Their plan to spend less on this and food assistance in order to spend more on enforcement of bureaucratic work requirements — rules that will only increase hunger and hardship — is a huge waste of tax dollars.
What is happening with work requirement time limits now?
The USDA budget contains large cuts to SNAP that would result in 4 million current recipients losing food assistance. Advocates believe they will accomplish this by expanding mandatory work requirements with harsh time limits. This would override states’ ability to determine where, when, and which SNAP recipients are subject to these rules, based on their understanding of their own population and local economies.
This would cut even larger numbers of people off of food assistance when they need it the most.
They are having a public comment period for people to weigh in on what changes, if any, the USDA should make to the SNAP time limit rule for ABAWDs.
What can I do to help?
We need the USDA to hear, loud and clear: we oppose any changes that would expose more people to the harsh 3-month time limit for food assistance. This would only increase hunger and hardship in our community.
The comment period ends Tuesday, April 10. Here’s how to take action to participate before then:
Copy the following text and submit it on this public comments page at federalregister.gov. Feel free to make changes that personalize it. You will also need to fill out short form with your name and address. Your submission will go to the SNAP Program Division in the USDA.
Dear Ms. Gersten-Paal,
I am deeply concerned by attempts to create further restrictions on food assistance for hungry people in my community. I am opposed to any policies that will increase hunger by subjecting more people to work requirements and time limits. People should not be punished for grappling with hardship.
Most participants in SNAP who can work are working and don’t need to be given a “requirement” to do so. Putting up barriers to food assistance will not incentivize or equip those who are the least able to work — the un-skilled, caregivers, the homeless, people with physical and mental health problems — with what they need to maintain paid employment. It is not the real training and education that would comprise true workforce development.
Mandating participation in work programs, with the priority placed on attendance, ciphons much-needed resources away from actual education and training programs. We need programs that actually provide clients with skills that match their abilities and the needs of local employers.
I strongly support any measures that allow states to suspend the SNAP time limit to best respond to local needs. The federal government should continue to allow states the flexibility to forego SNAP time limits in areas they determine there is a “lack of sufficient jobs”.
I also oppose limiting the definition of “unfit for employment” to only certain chronic physical or mental health conditions. This will subject people with significant employment barriers to time limits, increasing their risk of hunger.
The best recommendation I can make regarding the SNAP time limit is to abolish it.