As US economy rebounds, 1 million people could lose food stamps benefit

Citing the decrease in unemployment rates, 22 states are re–imposing the limits and work requirement that will see up to million people losing food stamps.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File
A photo shows a sign announcing the acceptance of electronic Benefit Transfer cards at a farmers market in Roseville, Calif.

The Labor Department announced Friday that a high number of Americans have flooded back into the job market at faster rates since before the Great Recession, driven by the a hiring rate that has been increasing in the recent years.

On the same day, several states reinstated time limits and work requirements for people that receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The mandate was put in place in 1996, and was suspended in 2009 amid a widespread increase in unemployment following the 2008 economic recession. The rule requires adults who don’t have children or disabilities to have a job or be enrolled in a job training in order to qualify as a recipient of SNAP food stamps for more than three months.

Generally states have to request a waiver from the federal government, but they have to meet certain qualifications. For a jurisdiction to qualify, it has to have a high unemployment rate, above 10 percent and 20 percent higher than the national rate. Most states qualified for the waiver after the recession as unemployment rates soared across the country.

The time limits and work requirements normally exempt people above 49 years, and people below 18 as well as pregnant women and people who are classified as “unfit for employment,” because of a disability. That means that the the most at risk of losing food stamp benefits today are people between 18 to 49 years.

A 2014 analysis by The Associated Press and University of Kentucky economists found that a majority of the food stamp recipients were working-age people, or 18 to 49 year olds. As The Christian Science Monitor reported, the number surged from 44 percent in 1998, to 50.2 percent in 2014. Currently, some 46 million people are receiving food aid under the program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal organization based in Washington, D.C., estimates that between 500,000 and 1 million people will lose SNAP benefits over the course of 2016.

Citing the decrease in unemployment rates, 22 states are re-imposing the limits and work requirement that will see up to million people losing food stamps. Up to 40 states will now have the rule in place.

The Labor Department estimated that about 2.4 million people have found jobs or are in the process of looking since last September. The number of Americans looking for jobs, also known as the “participation rate” increased from 62.4 percent to 63. Yet not everybody is onboard with the reinstatement of the SNAP rules.

Opponents of the rules are concerned that the decrease in unemployment isn’t reflected in across all the states. Though the economy has improved in several states that are reinstating the rule, including New York and Maryland, other states including, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia haven’t had a similar economic rebound, as the Washington Post reported. Mississippi and West Virginia both which have reimposed the rule, have unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, worse than the national rate of 5 percent.

“Although the overall jobless rate has been slowly falling,” Dorothy Rosenbaum, a food policy expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told The New York Times, “other labor market data indicate that many people who want to work still cannot find jobs. Cutting off food assistance does not enable them to find employment or secure more hours of work.”

Currently, the average amount of time unemployed Americans spend looking for work is roughly 30 weeks, a decrease from the number recorded in 2011, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet it’s still 2.5 times longer than the work requirement allows, the Washington Post reported.

Proponents championing the rule, mostly Republican lawmakers, say the improving economy should drive “able bodied” people to seek jobs.

"These are, again, adults — no dependents, physically and mentally capable of working,” Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign, told the Washington Post. “Just as much as we believe in the social safety net, we also believe it’s a sin not to help oneself.”

The number of people under the SNAP program has decreased by 2.6 million since its peak in 2012. Twenty-one states reported to not have used any of the federal funds that were available for the program, the New York Times reported.

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