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31K Louisianans Will Lose Food Stamps On New Years

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Roughly 31,000 Louisiana residents could lose their food stamp benefits Jan. 1, 2016 because of the reinstatement of a policy which requires able-bodied recipients to work.

The work requirements were restored under outgoing Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. Nearly every state was granted a federal waiver to the requirements in response to the Great Recession but now some are letting waivers expire without renewal. Without the waiver able-bodied adults without children must work at least 20 hours a week or be enrolled in a federally approved job training program to qualify for benefits. The policy change is likely to impact 31,000 state residents, reports Al Jazeera America.

“We continue to seek opportunities for SNAP recipients to increase their self-sufficiency,” Louisiana 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.”

Recipients have three months to find a job or training program before they get cut off. Louisiana let its waiver expire Oct. 1 exactly three months before the New Year. Some critics, however, argue the plan is flawed and based in stereotypes. Steve Spires, a senior policy analyst for the Louisiana Budget Project, notes many have difficulty finding a part-time job even when they want one.

“The idea that anybody is choosing not to work because of $190 dollars a month in food stamps — that’s really kind of a stereotype,” Spires told Al Jazeera America. “The reality is a lot of people want to work. There simply aren’t jobs. And with the price of oil going down and more job losses, it’s getting worse.”

The reinstatement of work requirements may face problems down the line as well. Incoming Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he plans to get the waiver back. He expressed his intent in a letter Dec. 21 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department is the main federal agency overseeing the program.

Other states like Wisconsin have also let their waivers expire. As of June, 44 states have either a waiver or a partial waiver. The federal government has required work or job training to qualify for benefits since 1996.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 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.

Edwards will take office Jan. 11.

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