The following article is a guest post by Ed Bolen, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Great Recession meant lost jobs, shrinking incomes, and uncertainty for millions of Americans. While struggling families faced tough decisions like how to pay the rent or cover other basic expenses like buying school supplies for their kids, one thing many of them didn’t have to worry about was keeping food on the table each day.
Thanks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps), millions of struggling Americans got enough to eat during the deep recession.
As the economy has begun to recover and more Americans have found work, the number of SNAP recipients has fallen. This is good news, but in many areas of the country, jobs remain scarce and barriers to employment remain high. That’s why it is so concerning that this year more than half a million of some of the most vulnerable Americans will lose this critical tool to help them get enough to eat each day.
This year, 23 states around the country are reinstating a strict time limit on how long unemployed individuals between ages 18 and 49, who are not disabled and not caring for children, can receive SNAP.
Created under the 1996 welfare law, the time limit requires childless, able-bodied SNAP recipients to be working or in a work training program for at least 20 hours a week in order to receive SNAP for more than three months in any three years.
Sadly, many of those affected live in places overlooked by the economic recovery. They face a job market where good paying, full-time jobs are hard to find. And very few states offer SNAP recipients the chance to participate in a work training program for 20 hours a week. That means that these individuals will lose food assistance no matter how hard they are looking for work.
The Americans who will be hit hardest by this strict time limit are some of the poorest people in our country. They represent a diverse group of men and women, including veterans and the homeless. They have very low incomes and many cycle in and out of work, often in low-paying jobs that leave them in poverty. For many, SNAP is the only assistance for which they qualify.
Cutting off food assistance to poor unemployed or underemployed people doesn’t help them to find employment or secure more work hours; it will only increase hunger and hardship.
States can choose to not implement this harsh time limit on food assistance in areas that still face high unemployment and lack of opportunity. If states aren’t already doing so, they should act now to protect these struggling Americans. States implementing the time limit can also take steps to ensure that no one inadvertently loses benefits, such as making sure that workers are trained to properly identify those who are exempt from this limit and designing job training programs that help individuals retain eligibility.
Ultimately, Congress should eliminate or revise this harsh rule. SNAP is often the last line of assistance for these individuals. It means the difference between eating and going hungry.
To learn more about the time limit, please visit: http://www.cbpp.org/2016-snap-cuts-return-of-a-three-month-limit-on-food-assistance-for-some-recipients