Monday, August 19, 2013

More Austerity In The Land of Opportunity

Shortly before Congress adjourned for its August recess, House Republican leaders disclosed that they plan to move a bill in early September that doubles — to $40 billion over ten years — their proposed cuts to SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) and immediately cuts 2-4 million more low-income individuals from the program.  The new cuts come primarily from eliminating waivers that states can use, during periods of high unemployment, to ease the severity of a harsh rule that limits SNAP to three months of benefits out of every three years for people aged 18 to 50 who aren’t raising minor children and are unemployed, regardless of how hard they are looking for work.

Under the new House Republican proposal, if such individuals can’t find at least a half-time job, they will summarily be thrown off the program after three months — irrespective of how high local unemployment is. The individuals in question are among the poorest people in the United States. SNAP program data show their average income is just 22 percent of the poverty line, about $2,500 a year for a single individual.  For most of them, SNAP is the only state or federal income assistance available.  On average they will receive about $160 a month in SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2014.

The three-month rule is not a work requirement.  It denies basic food assistance to people who want to work and will accept any job or work slot offered them, and it does not require states to provide work or job training opportunities to these individuals. Thus, the three-month rule is not a test of individuals’ willingness to work.  Indeed, it applies to people who have worked for years but have lost their jobs for any reason, including plant closings or outsourcing, and can’t quickly find new employment.

The impact, on communities as well as individuals, would be significant and be felt throughout the country.  The increased demand on already-strained local services and charities would be substantial — either displacing support for other needy residents, such as seniors and low-income working families, or leaving jobless adults without food.  (Table 1 lists the number of people in each state who meet the criteria for people subject to the three-month cutoff, based on data for fiscal year 2011.)

Demographically, the group is diverse.  More than 40 percent are women. One-third (34 percent) are over age 40.  Some 37 percent of the women who would lose benefits are over age 40. Among those who report their race, about half are white (not Hispanic), a third are African American (not Hispanic), one in ten is Hispanic, and about 5 percent are Native American. About 50,000 of such jobless adults were veterans in 2011, according to Census data.

Most of these childless adults are ineligible for any other federal income assistance — or, in most states, for any state or local cash assistance, no matter how poor they are.  Most states and localities have eliminated cash “general assistance” programs for unemployed childless adults, leaving most of those who are affected by the three-month SNAP cutoff without any other benefits.  Moreover, because these adults aren’t raising children or disabled, they are ineligible for Medicaid as well. 

Table 1
Number of SNAP Participants Aged 18-50, Not Raising Minor Children, and Not Employed 20 Hours Per Week, Based on Fiscal Year 2011 Data
Alabama 74,000
Alaska 10,000
Arizona 96,000
Arkansas 43,000
California 346,000
Colorado 28,000
Connecticut 41,000
Delaware 11,000
District of Columbia 22,000
Florida 414,000
Georgia 168,000
Hawaii 16,000
Idaho 18,000
Illinois 182,000
Indiana 66,000
Iowa 34,000
Kansas 27,000
Kentucky 88,000
Louisiana 71,000
Maine 27,000
Maryland 77,000
Massachusetts 64,000
Michigan 212,000
Minnesota 41,000
Mississippi 52,000
Missouri 88,000
Montana 12,000
Nebraska 10,000
Nevada 31,000
New Hampshire 8,000
New Jersey 59,000
New Mexico 32,000
New York 211,000
North Carolina 165,000
North Dakota 3,000
Ohio 163,000
Oklahoma 47,000
Oregon 120,000
Pennsylvania 124,000
Rhode Island 14,000
South Carolina 95,000
South Dakota 7,000
Tennessee 159,000
Texas 109,000
Utah 23,000
Vermont 8,000
Virginia 68,000
Washington 124,000
West Virginia 25,000
Wisconsin 71,000
Wyoming 2,000
Guam 1,000
Virgin Islands 1,000
Total 4,000,000   
taken from here


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