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States Find Food Stamps Work Requirements Too Hard to Implement

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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Tracking and enforcing work requirements for food stamp recipients is often “too burdensome” for individual states, according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Individuals without children who are considered “able-bodied” are only eligible to receive food stamps for three months out of any three-year period, but tracking each case is a difficult task for local and state officials, the OIG says in its report, released Monday.

To make the system more complex, able-bodied singles can continue to receive food stamps if they prove they are working or are in a work training program for at least 20 hours per week.

About 43.5 million people receive food stamps, which is 9 percent lower than the program’s peak in 2012, according to available data. As post-recession recovery measure, the 2009 stimulus bill allowed states to waive the work requirements and time limits for food stamps recipients, and gave federal money to cover the extra costs.

States had to request waivers for the work requirements, and many states are reinstating the work requirements this year before the waivers officially expire.(RELATED: 7 States Are Ready To Cut Special Post-Recession Food Stamp Program)

The OIG found that in some cases, states don’t enforce work requirements in order “to avoid the burden of tracking” individuals who are no longer eligible to receive food stamps.

The states “have difficulties implementing provisions because the [work] requirements are very complex,” the OIG concludes, though the Food and Nutrition Service at USDA, which manages the food stamps program,

Some states waive the time limits due to the complexity, the OIG found after interviewing administrators in the states. “Officials in another two states confirmed that their tracking workloads are lightened by waiving more areas from the able-bodied adults without dependents time limits,” the report says.

If the USDA doesn’t work with the states to find a way to implement the work requirements effectively, the “error rate” of ineligible people receiving food stamps could balloon, the OIG report warns.

In 2014, when states still had waivers allowing single adults without kids to be on food stamps without working, around 2.9 percent of households with an able-bodied adult received food stamps, potentially in error. That amounts to about $1.8 billion spent on recipients who may have been ineligible.

“As the number of states on full-time limit waivers continues to decline, the error rate and corresponding dollars in error could increase with respect to [able-bodied adults without dependents] as the States reestablish their tracking systems,” the OIG said.

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