For tens of millions of low-income Americans, a monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit—formerly known as food stamps—is a lifeline.
SNAP recipients use the benefit to buy food. The average $150 to $170 per person monthly stipend is not enough for most families to fill their pantries and refrigerators—but it's a start.
Come April, that lifeline could be yanked back for up to a million SNAP recipients across the nation when many states reinstate a three-month limit on the benefit for single adults between ages 18 and 49 who are not “diligently looking for work.” Twenty-three states are choosing to reinstate the work requirement, which was originally made law in the 1996 Welfare Reform legislation but relaxed by President Obama during the Great Recession. This will affect between 500,000 and 1 million SNAP recipients, who have three months (starting January 1) to find work or have their benefit taken away.
“This work requirement is particularly harsh,” wrote Chad Stone, a chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a column for US News & World Report. “Unemployed individuals will be cut off the SNAP rolls after three months no matter how hard they're looking for work and even if their state runs few or no employment programs and doesn't offer them a spot in a work or training program—which is the case in most states. Those working less than 20 hours a week are also out of luck.”
Stone goes on to write the “the affected people are among the nation's poorest,” earning an average of just 17 percent of the poverty line—that's only $2,000 per year for someone living alone.
Critics of the SNAP program say many of its recipients defraud the system by taking the benefit and refusing to find a job, but the data refutes such claims. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the majority of SNAP recipients who can work, do. And overall, the CBPP reports that fraudulent claims make up less than 3 percent of all recipients, as SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality-control systems of any public benefit program.
What’s more, Stone points out that $170 a month for food—or about $5 a day—is scarcely enough of an incentive for a person to stay unemployed.
The work requirement policy also may drop many recipients it shouldn’t. Like the 27-year-old deaf son of Tennessee nonprofit director Terry Work. Despite the fact that his condition makes it difficult to find or keep a job, Work’s son—who was recently denied disability payments—received a letter saying he would lose his benefits on April 1.
“Nobody will hire him,” Work told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “They're not supposed to discriminate, but they find ways around it.”
The decrease in SNAP recipients is expected to put a burden on the nation’s food banks and pantries.
Editor's Note: The article originally stated that Work's son was blind, not deaf.
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