Significant changes are coming for Americans who receive food stamps all across the country. Last week, House Republicans revealed a plan to significantly tighten up the program to prevent fraud and manipulation of the food stamp system. But rather than restricting who can get food stamps by income, the new bill focuses on increasing work requirements for people who apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the first place.
• The new bill introduces legislation that would require recipients to participate in either work or educational advancement for a minimum of 20 hours per week up until the age of 59. This significantly expands the required about of work for SNAP across the board.
• Children under 18 and adults over 59 are exempted from the rule. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the program would also exempt others in special situations, such as the disabled or infirm.
• Experts believe between 5 million and 7 billion SNAP recipients, many of whom live in rural areas where work is scarce, will be affected. A significant portion may be kicked off of SNAP benefits altogether.
• Some states, such as West Virginia, have already put legislation into place to prevent “able-bodied” adults from accessing SNAP without making clear attempts to access work. In this case, Governor Jim Justice put forth a bill specifying that “able-bodied” meant anyone who was between 18 and 49 who isn’t pregnant, disabled, infirm, without dependents, or currently a member of the military. It is possible (and likely) that the federal bill will follow the same structure.
• Although Republicans believe the work requirements will encourage more Americans to get back to work, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy director Seth DiStefano disagrees. “The bill will make it much more difficult for thousands of West Virginians to get the food assistance they need when times are tough,” he said. “Data from the state’s pilot program showed work requirements did not increase workforce participation.”
• Congressman Ralph Abraham doesn’t see the new bill as punitive or unnecessary; in fact, he believes it will propel Americans living in poverty into a better life. “SNAP provides an important safety net for many Americans, but I want it to be an on-ramp to success, not a lifestyle for work-capable adult,” he said. “The new Farm Bill makes reasonable and streamlined changes to eligibility requirements that will result in more adults who are ready for the workforce.”