Crowds gathered in New Orleans to protest Tuesday against a plan by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal to reinstate food stamp work-requirements.
The federal government has required work or job training to qualify for benefits since 1996. After the recession, many states were granted waivers that allowed them to ignore the requirements. With the improved economy, several states have decided to not request their waiver be renewed. Louisiana let its waiver expire Oct. 1. The move, however, has faced adamant opposition.
“The Department of Children and Family Services and Governor Jindal do not understand the impact of their policy change,” the protesters said in a letter obtained by The Times-Picayune. “For many, food stamps stand between subsistence and starvation. Taking food out of people’s mouths will neither promote self-sufficiency nor create jobs, but rather only leave entire communities hungry.”
The protest was organized by Stand with Dignity. The group has filed an administrative complaint demanding that state reverse its decision. Protesters note 62,000 state recipients are at risk of losing their benefits. The work-requirements apply to able-bodied adults without children. The job must be at least 20 hours a week and the training must be federally approved. Without the waiver, state residents have three months to comply.
“We continue to seek opportunities for SNAP recipients to increase their self-sufficiency,” Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonnier said in September. “Engaging in work activities is a key step in that transition. We are striving to reduce reliance on public benefits, increase the number of clients participating in education or workforce activities and connect Louisiana employers with ready and willing to work job candidates.”
Not everyone believes ending the waiver is a good idea. Louisiana Budget Project Director Jan Moller argues the decision ignores economic realities.
“Parts of the state that are very rural and very poor with unemployment rates far above the national average, that’s what this waiver was designed to address,” Moller told The Times-Picayune. “There are people who are desperately poor and need help.”
As of June, 44 states have either a waiver or a partial waiver. The food stamp program is officially known as The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Run by The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is the nation’s largest food-assistance program.
“We’re not talking about a luxury villa and a Cadillac in the driveway,” Moller continued. “Telling people you’re taking food off table for ideological reasons is bad policy and bad economics.”
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. The improved economy has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. Since participation hit its peak in December 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
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