Food Stamp Use Is Dropping Due To Restored Work Requirements

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The number of people receiving food stamps has declined sharply due in part to the reinstatement of work requirements earlier this year, according to a report Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowed states to waive work requirements in response to the 2009 recession. Requirements were restored in 22 states in January in response to improved economic conditions. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found in an analysis of recently released department data that the program declined by 773,000 people in April.

“Caseloads fell sharply in April, especially in states reinstating a three-month time limit for unemployed childless adults without disabilities, new Agriculture Department data show,” CBPP detailed in its report. “The data, covering the first month in which most of the roughly 20 states that imposed the time limit in January began cutting people off.”

The USDA has required food stamp work requirements since an overhaul of the program in 1996. Able-bodied adults without children are required to work at least 20 hours a week or else lose their benefits after three months. CBPP originally predicted March 18 that the number of people receiving food stamps would decline by 500,000 and as many as 1 million.

“[Its] the largest one-month drop since temporary disaster benefits for Hurricane Katrina victims ended in 2005,” the report continued. “45 states saw participation declines.  NAP caseloads, at 43.6 million people, are the lowest since 2010 and have dropped by 4.2 million since peaking in December 2012.”

Some states began restoring requirements in 2015 in response to improved economic conditions. Work requirements have now been restored in a total of 40 states compared to 44 states this past June that had either a waiver or a partial waiver. The USDA works with state agencies to make sure benefits are properly distributed to qualified individuals and families.

“Falling SNAP participation among people subject to the time limit doesn’t mean they’re better off,” the report warned. “Many of those subject to the time limit have a strong connection to the labor force and cycle in and out of work, turning to SNAP while between jobs. They also frequently face significant barriers to work, such as low skill levels or education or mental or physical health impairments.”

The food stamps program is the largest nutritional assistance welfare service in the country. The USDA estimates the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. It has declined by more than 1.5 million recipients since participation hit its peak in 2012 thanks in part to the improved economy, the Congressional Budget Office found.

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