For some of America’s poorest adults without jobs, there may be a downside to falling unemployment: they could get kicked out of the SNAP (food stamp) program, even if they are still looking for work.
The left-leaning think tank, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates that as many as 1 million Americans could lose their SNAP benefits in 2016*.
Back in 1996, when the welfare law that includes SNAP was put into place, the government limited food stamp benefits to three months for unemployed adults between 18 and 50 without minor children or disabilities. The three-month time limit is in effect for any three year period when eligible people aren’t working or spending at least 20 hours a week at a training program (something the government provides, theoretically, but in practice a slot in one is often hard to find).
More than 80% of people who fall under this umbrella have household incomes below half of the poverty line, according to the CBPP. SNAP benefits are worth about $US150-200 of their monthly budgets.
States can waive the three-month limit under certain circumstances — mostly related to unemployment being higher than 10% in that state — and most have done so since the Great Recession. As unemployment continues to fall, about 30% of states’ waivers have already expired, and the CBPP says most of the remaining waivers are going to expire by 2016.
This is what that demographic group looks like.
There are many benefits that have work requirements, but SNAP is somewhat unique in that it doesn’t factor in people who are looking for work but cannot find a job.
The report says that “because this provision denies basic food assistance to people who want to work and will accept any job or work program slot offered, it is effectively a severe time limit rather than a work requirement, as such requirements are commonly understood.”
* Here’s CBPP’s note on methodology for that 1 million figure, which can be found on page 4 here: “We developed this estimate using historical SNAP administrative data; data from USDA on historical trends in states’ usage of waivers; and current county-level unemployment data, used to project 2016 waiver eligibility.”