More than one million Americans in 21 states are in danger of losing their food stamps if they don’t meet certain work requirements, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting.
Officially, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — the federal program that provides for food stamps — has had rules requiring able-bodied adults without children to meet certain work requirements for two decades. Adults aged 18 through 49 who don’t have a federally-recognized disability are required to work, volunteer, or attend education or job-training courses at least 80 hours a month in order to receive food stamps.
The rules were put in place in 1996, spearheaded by then-Rep. John Kasich of Ohio, and signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton. Kasich is now the Governor of Ohio, and is also a Republican candidate for president.
Certain communities with high unemployment, and even entire states, can apply with the Department of Agriculture (the federal agency that oversees the food stamps program) for a waiver from the work requirements. Almost all 50 states applied for, and received, the waivers once the Great Recession began in 2008.
However, now that the economy is improving and jobs are becoming more available, those waivers have come to an end in 21 states. Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina between them account for nearly two thirds of the food stamp recipients in danger of losing their benefits; those states account for such a large share because no local communities in those states have applied for waivers for the work requirements.
At state level, pushes have been made to reduce the number of food stamp recipients by instituting work requirements. In Wisconsin, for example, 15,000 able-bodied adults lost their food stamp benefits last year after failing to meet state work requirements. Similarly, North Carolina passed a law last year accelerating existing work requirements and preventing the state from applying for further waivers.
Advocates for the poor are concerned that the loss of food stamps will cause and influx of hungry people into food pantries and soup kitchens — charities that may not be able to keep up with the increased demand.
Dave Krepcho, president and chief executive of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, says the new requirements mean “less food, less adequate nutrition. And over the span of time, that can certainly have an impact on health — and the health care system.”
Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University in Philadelphia, believes that politicians who push for work requirements fail to see the barriers that some adults have in finding employment.
“[Lawmakers] don’t realize a lot of the struggles those individuals are dealing with.”
Some people, for example, may have disabilities that make it difficult to hold down a job but that don’t qualify them for federal disability benefits. Some are veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Others may have criminal records, making it harder for them to get a job. Some have trouble getting an I.D. — a requirement for just about any job.
Joe Heflin, of Missouri, has been on food stamps for the past five years. He lost his job as an iron worker several years ago due to an injury, and he’s developed a mental illness since then. Still, Missouri considers him able-bodied, and he’s in danger of losing his food stamps.
“I think it’s a crummy deal. I think they ought to look into individuals more, or at least hear them out… I depend on it, you know, to eat.”
Do you think adults who received food stamps should be required to work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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