December 6, 2019

Food Stamps

On Thursday, the Department of Agriculture issued a final rule restricting the ability of states to apply for waivers of the work requirements for SNAP (food stamps). Current law prevents able-bodied adults without dependents from receiving food stamps for more than a few months, but states can apply for waivers in places with relatively high unemployment. The Department estimates that 688,000 individuals will lose benefits as a result of the change. Department of Agriculture

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From the Left

The left is critical of the rule, arguing that it will increase poverty and fail to get more people to work.

“Supporters of the requirements often claim to be helping poor people access ‘the dignity of work,’ meaning that it’s inherently more satisfying to get paid for work than to depend on public support. That may well be true, provided your boss isn’t abusive and your work conditions are safe and, at the end of the month, your paycheck covers your expenses and maybe even leaves a bit left to save for the future. But you won’t hear those people talking about the ‘dignity of work’ when it comes to organizing workers into unions that protect them from abusive management or unsafe conditions. Nor do they pipe up in favor of the ‘the dignity of a living wage.’ In fact, the people who favor work requirements near universally oppose unions and minimum wage hikes…

“Some, probably very small fraction of the people who would lose food stamps probably don’t need need them. Instead, they are getting small payments that help them get enough to eat in the richest country on earth while also paying rent and maybe even (horrors!) buying some stuff that wasn’t absolutely necessary. But some of the people — likely a far greater number of people — who’d lose food stamp payments really do need those benefits to get themselves and their families enough to eat… When it came to tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, Trump and Republicans felt the nation’s finances were firm enough to give up more than $1,500,000,000,000. When it’s time to spend a fraction of that to help poor people eat, that’s when the well has supposedly run dry.”
Patrick Reis, Rolling Stone

“Though helping or encouraging people to experience the ‘dignity of work’ is a laudable goal… experts I spoke to say there is little evidence that food stamp receipt discourages work. Most food-stamp beneficiaries already have jobs; among those who don’t, or who don’t work sufficient hours, it is difficult to believe that the only thing keeping them from meeting this requirement is that it doesn’t suck enough to be poor…

“The population affected by this new rule, after all, involves the neediest — on average, they make just 18 percent of the poverty line — so it’s not as though food stamps enable them to live a life of comfort and convenience. Especially when you consider that their average monthly SNAP benefits are $165, or about $1.83 per meal… the Trump administration is pushing people off the rolls and making it more difficult for state policymakers to respond the next time there is a sudden spike in unemployment. Which means Trump officials aren’t just exporting anti-poor antipathy to the states; they’re exporting Washington’s policy gridlock, too.”
Catherine Rampell, Washington Post

“Certain tweaks could boost the workforce. Cutting food stamps is not one of them… what’s striking is that the Trump proposal comes despite the absence of a glaring mismatch between the number of people in poverty and the number receiving SNAP. In fact, there appears to be a pretty close correspondence between the two: Roughly 38 million people live in poverty and roughly 38 million get SNAP, according to government data.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

Dated but relevant: “Food stamps are now the only form of public assistance available to many struggling families during hard times: when their jobs don’t pay enough, when they face eviction, or when they experience health problems and other emergencies. These hardships can strike anyone: 1 in 5 Americans uses SNAP at some point in their lives…

“If the government wants to make food-assistance programs like SNAP obsolete, it needs to address the real problems in our economy that make it difficult for families to afford food: things like miserly wages, expensive housing, exorbitant health care costs and inadequate support for the unemployed. Until those changes are made, the least we can do is expand and bolster our existing food-assistance programs. Otherwise, more children and adults in our affluent country will go hungry.”
Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton, Politico

From the Right

The right supports the rule limiting waivers, arguing that it is necessary to return to the original intentions of the law and prevent states from gaming the system.

The right supports the rule limiting waivers, arguing that it is necessary to return to the original intentions of the law and prevent states from gaming the system.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) writes, “When welfare reform first inserted work requirements into our welfare system in 1996, some on the Left predicted doom for America’s most vulnerable families… [but] Between 1996 and 2000, single-mother welfare caseloads fell by 53%, their employment rate increased by 10 percentage points, and their poverty rate fell by 10%… The number of SNAP recipients used to rise during recessions and then quickly fall as the economy recovered. But due to eligibility loopholes instituted under President Barack Obama, that didn’t happen after the most recent recession. A full ten years after the recession ended in 2009, the share of the U.S. population receiving SNAP is 40% higher now than when the recession began in 2007.”
Mike Lee, Washington Examiner

“The 1996 welfare reform proved the effectiveness of [work requirements]. And if Congress disagrees, it’s welcome to write some new rules into the law rather than leaving these decisions to the executive branch…

“Many on the left complain about the rule simply because it will reduce the number of people on food stamps — by about 700,000, roughly 2 percent of total food-stamp enrollment, by the administration’s own estimate. But increasing benefit receipt is not an end in itself, especially when it comes at the expense of an incentive for childless, able-bodied adults to find work; and given the massive growth the program has seen these past two decades, there is clearly room for cuts… Perhaps more to the point, whatever one’s ideal level of food-stamp enrollment, there is no good reason to gut work requirements for entire areas with low unemployment while enforcing those requirements elsewhere — or to let states play games with their maps to boost eligibility.”
The Editors, National Review

“The rule applies to a group called ‘able-bodied adults without dependents’ or ABAWDs… In recognition of the difficult job market during the Great Recession, ABAWD [work] requirements were waived in all states as part of the federal stimulus legislation in 2009. But after the economy recovered and unemployment fell to historic lows, some states still found ways to maintain their ABAWD waivers, using tactics such as combining distant jurisdictions while excluding low unemployment areas…

“Illinois is a good example of how states have gerrymandered the waiver process to exempt ABAWDs, even during good economic times. For a previously approved waiver application, Illinois grouped all counties in the state together as an ‘economic area’ — with the exception of low-unemployment DuPage County — in order to expand the total area that qualified for a waiver. Most Illinois counties would not qualify for a waiver on their own due to favorable economic conditions… California, with its current 3.9 percent unemployment rate, did the same, combining all but six low-unemployment counties in their waiver request. As a result, ABAWDs in 90 percent of California counties are exempt from the work requirement.”
Matt Weidinger and Angela Rachidi, American Enterprise Institute

“With the U.S. unemployment rate now at 50-year lows, there are seven million job openings for only six million job seekers. Yet as of last year 2.1 million potential hires—specifically, adults age 18 to 49, able-bodied, without dependents—were receiving food stamps despite not working

“The Foundation for Government Accountability calculated in August that the average jobless rate in waived areas—more than 1,100 jurisdictions across 33 states—was 4.5%. ‘Nearly half,’ the report said, ‘have unemployment rates at or below four percent’… There are [always] difficult and sympathetic cases. But if Democrats oppose even this modest step—a part-time work requirement, applied to childless, able-bodied adults, in an economy with unemployment at 3.6%—then they might as well say that getting food stamps is a permanent way of life.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

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