A February 18 editorial by the Las Vegas Review-Journal encouraged Nevada and other states to replicate Maine's food assistance program work requirements. But reports find the requirements could hurt many of the state's most vulnerable people.
Las Vegas Review-Journal Advocates Work Requirements For Able-Bodied Adults Receiving Food Stamps
Las Vegas Review-Journal: More States Should Replicate Maine's Program Requiring Adults To Fulfill Work Requirements For Food Assistance Benefits. A February 18 Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial advocated for Nevada and other states to adopt food assistance programs that require adults to meet defined work requirements, like Maine implemented in 2015:
In 2000, 17.2 million people in this country received food stamps. That number ballooned to 45.8 million by 2015. Costs have risen dramatically, too, from $20.7 billion in 2000 to $83.1 billion in 2014.
As reported by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield of The Daily Signal, the fastest growing segment of food stamp recipients is able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) -- people between the ages of 18 and 49 who don't have children or other dependents to support but who can work. This segment has grown from 2 million recipients in 2008 to roughly 5 million today, and the growth spurred Maine Gov. Paul LePage to take action.
Gov. LePage recently established work requirements on ABAWDs in his state. If you live in Maine, have no dependents and can work, you are now required to find a job, undergo training or perform community service if you wish to continuing receiving state aid.
After just three months -- from December 2014 to March 2015 -- Maine's new work policy caused the state's caseload of ABAWDs to drop by a whopping 80 percent, from 13,332 recipients to 2,678.
Further, as the report suggests, the program likely also reduces fraud among those who are on food stamps but have under-the-table employment in which their earnings aren't documented. These recipients often find it difficult to participate in job training or community service while still doing their gray economy work, so they simply choose to drop off the welfare rolls.
Maine's program is an outstanding step toward making sure those who need such aid get it, while also helping them get back to work, and it's better still in combatting fraud and bringing fairness to the taxpayers who fund it. And as the Daily Signal report noted, because the federal government provides 90 percent of food stamp funding, such programs could help all states by curbing food stamp abuse nationwide. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 2/18/2016]
Food Assistance Work Requirements Often Hurt The Most Needy
CBPP: "Affected Unemployed Childless Individuals Are Very Poor; Few Qualify For Other Help." According to a January 21 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report, many of the able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) affected by the reinstated SNAP work requirements have an average income of "about $2,000 per year for a household of one in 2015," which is significantly lower than that of the average SNAP recipient (emphasis added):
Unemployed, nondisabled childless adults on SNAP tend to be very poor. USDA data show that while these individuals participate in SNAP their gross income averages 17 percent of the poverty line -- about $2,000 per year for a household of one in 2015 -- compared to gross income of 57.8 percent of the poverty line for the average SNAP household overall. Over 80 percent of the people subject to the three-month limit live in households with incomes below half of the poverty line (see Figure 3). Some 97 percent live in households below 100 percent of the poverty line.
Other kinds of assistance won't replace the lost SNAP benefits. SNAP is the only benefit available to most unemployed workers without children. All but a few states have eliminated their state-run cash assistance programs for poor childless adults (except, in some states, for people with a disability). Most unemployed workers on SNAP either don't qualify for unemployment insurance or any other federal or state cash or food assistance benefit or are long-term unemployed workers who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. [CBPP,1/21/16; Media Matters,1/26/16]
Study Found New Work Requirements Booted Many Residents Before They Found Work. As a January 12 Governing magazine article explained, in states where work requirements were reinstated prior to this year, there is evidence that barriers to employment such as lack of access to transportation and other variables not considered by the SNAP requirements have resulted in low-income individuals being dropped from the program before finding work (emphasis added):
While some governors, such as Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, have said that the time limits spur people to find work, a study by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks casts some doubt on that assertion. The association assessed more than 4,800 able-bodied adults without dependent children in Franklin County between 2013 and 2015 and found that these people faced physical, mental and systemic barriers to employment. Even though welfare agencies had identified these recipients as able-bodied adults, a portion of them really couldn't work. More than 12 percent had a self-reported disability, such as back and shoulder injuries, and almost 10 percent had a mental limitation, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The Ohio report also noted that this population faced other system-related barriers to employment. About 60 percent didn't have a driver's license and 40 percent said they didn't have access to reliable transportation. About 34 percent said they were last employed at least two years ago, which can be a disadvantage on job applications. And more than 35 percent had a felony conviction, another deterrent to hiring for some prospective employers.
States that have already reimposed the time limits, such as Maine, Oklahoma and Kansas, have seen SNAP caseloads drop as people couldn't meet the work requirement and lost benefits. While governors in those states say that people are leaving the food assistance program because they found jobs, data from the Ohio Association of Foodbanks suggest very few actually leave for that reason. When food bank staff followed up with a random sample of able-bodied adults without dependent children who had stopped receiving benefits, only a quarter said they exited because they found work. A higher percentage, about 40 percent, said they were kicked off the program for not meeting the weekly work requirement. [Governing, 1/12/16; Media Matters, 1/26/16]
NYT: Reinstatement Of Work Requirements Has Strained Food Banks As Demands For Their Services Grow Rapidly. The New York Times reported that in states that have already reinstated ABAWD work requirements for SNAP benefits, charities focused on alleviating hunger such as food banks are being strained as they try fill the gap caused by thousands of people losing their benefits:
Around the country, food pantry directors are girding for an influx of hungry adults as the work requirement re-emerges. In Wisconsin, the time limit kicked in statewide on April 1, and the independent Legislative Fiscal Bureau there has estimated that 31,000 people could lose their food stamps.
"We're going to run out of food," said Sherrie Tussler, the executive director of the Hunger Task Force Milwaukee. "It's going to cause wide-scale hunger here in Milwaukee, and we're in trouble."
In Kansas, the number of childless, able-bodied adults receiving food stamps dropped by 15,000 in the month after the waiver expired in December 2013, compared with the roughly 3,000 to 4,000 people who had been leaving the program monthly before the change, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
In some states, advocates have sounded the alarm about the administration of the change. After Minnesota became ineligible for a statewide waiver at the end of 2013, Colleen Moriarty of Hunger Solutions was alarmed, she said, when more than twice as many adults as predicted lost food stamps. And legal advocates in Ohio filed a civil rights complaint after the state declined the waiver for 2014 for all but 16 rural counties, noting that cities with large populations of poor minority residents were not in counties that received the waiver. [The New York Times, 4/11/15]
U.S. General Accounting Office: "Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents Are Usually The Hardest To Serve And Employ." A 2003 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office -- now known as the Government Accountability Office -- reported that able-bodied adults without dependents have less income and "are more likely to lack basic skills such as reading, writing, and basic mathematics" than other similarly aged food stamp recipients. [GAO, March 2003]