A failure to impose work requirements on parents receiving food stamp benefits has entrapped millions of Americans in welfare dependency and resulted in spiraling costs and soaring enrollments, according to a study released last month.
The Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability’s report, “The Case for Expanding Food Stamp Work Requirements to Parents,” says the number of Americans who receive the nutritional benefits through the federal government is now more than 12.2 million, up from 4.7 million in the year 2000.
“Policymakers at the state and federal levels have shown a renewed commitment to moving able-bodied adults from welfare to work,” Jonathan Ingram, one of the authors of the FGA report, told Watchdog.org in an email. “One area where interest seems to be growing is in food stamps, which has generally exempted able-bodied parents from most work requirements.”
Bills to strengthen work requirements in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other government welfare programs are advancing in legislatures in Missouri and Iowa, as well as in Congress. And the Wisconsin legislature has just passed a package of bills that would, among other things, increase the work requirements for able-bodied adults receiving food stamps from 20 to 30 hours per week.
Critics, however, contend that the SNAP program is effective at curbing hunger and reducing health care costs for recipients. Efforts to add work requirements or reduce benefits may do more harm than good, according to Victoria Jackson, state policy fellow at Policy Matters Ohio, who reports that about 70 percent of Ohio families who receive SNAP benefits have at least one member who works.
“It just makes additional hoops for people who want to put food on the table,” Jackson told Watchdog.org. “It’s just a benefit cut.”
A report by Policy Matters Ohio in 2017 said a federal budget proposal by the Trump administration would hurt Ohio children, the elderly and adults with disabilities, who make up about 67 percent of SNAP recipients in the state.
But Ingram’s report paints a different picture, concluding that more than half of healthy parents in the SNAP program do not work at all and, as a result, the number of parents now dependent on food stamps has hit a record high.
“Research shows that after work requirements are implemented, able-bodied adults go back to work in more than 600 different industries, and their incomes more than double on average,” Ingram said. “And better yet, higher wages more than offset the welfare benefits they leave behind, making them financially better off.”
Such was the case in Kansas and Maine after those states put work requirements in place for healthy adults with no dependents who had been receiving food stamps, according to the FGA report.
“So it’s no surprise we’re seeing a renewed interest in building on that success by expanding work requirements to all able-bodied adults, including parents,” Ingram said.
Jackson emphasized that children who have received SNAP benefits tend to be better off later in life and that proposals to cut benefits or add requirements can be counterproductive.
“Children who receive SNAP compared to their low-income peers who don’t – they’re more likely to graduate high school, and they have lower rates of hypertension and obesity,” she said.
In addition, adults receiving SNAP benefits will have health care costs that are 25 percent below low-income residents who don’t receive SNAP benefits, Jackson said. SNAP supporters also point out that the average benefit in 2017 was modest – just over $125 a month.
Wisconsin’s package of welfare reform bills has earned kudos from the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy in Madison.
“Adding work requirements is about changing the culture of government assistance,” Chris Rochester, spokesman for the MacIver Institute, told Watchdog.org in an email. “Instead of being simply an entitlement, welfare reforms under Gov. (Scott) Walker and the conservative legislature have made it clear that government assistance isn’t ‘free money.’ People are now expected to do something in exchange for the temporary help.”
More than 25,000 people who have received aid through Wisconsin’s version of SNAP, called FoodShare, have taken part in job training and eventually secured employment with a wage averaging $12.68 an hour, Rochester said.
“There is a zero percent chance that someone on assistance and not working will be able to climb the career ladder and work their way out of poverty,” he said. “A job is the only path to prosperity. We applaud continued efforts to ensure fewer people are dependent on government and more people are working.”