Learning What Works: SNAP’s New Employment and Training Demos

March 20, 2015 at 11:14 am

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez today announced ten pilot projects — the result of a bipartisan agreement in the 2013 Farm Bill — that will test innovative approaches to encouraging and supporting employment among SNAP participants.  While modest in scope, the pilots show that Congress can collaborate around important issues like finding better ways to expand economic opportunity for low-income Americans.

During the Farm Bill debate, the Agriculture Committees took a hard look at SNAP’s job training program after the House adopted highly contentious work requirements.  Lawmakers realized that no one knew for certain what makes an effective SNAP employment and training (E&T) program.  Rather than adopt uninformed and highly risky changes that could end benefits to millions and reward states for doing so, Congress wisely created a robust demonstration project to test whether promising and innovative programs really do deliver.

The pilots represent a broad range of approaches, reflecting both regional economic circumstances and the diversity of people who turn to SNAP for food assistance.  The states receiving grants for the pilots are California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.  You can read more about them here.

Experimenting with new, and revising existing, approaches to SNAP’s work programs allow states to develop partnerships that will also last beyond the life of the pilots.  Equally important, the pilots will be rigorously evaluated to determine which parts of a state’s program increased employment and earnings and generated other positive family outcomes.

60,000 Jobless Veterans May Lose Food Assistance Due to Time Limit

March 10, 2015 at 4:19 pm

An estimated 60,000 veterans may lose SNAP (food stamp) benefits over the course of 2016 as a three-month limit on benefits for unemployed, nondisabled adults without children returns in many areas.  The House and Senate Budget Committees can help protect these veterans — and the rest of the estimated 1 million people facing the loss of food assistance — by providing the resources in the budget resolutions planned for release next week.  At the very least, they shouldn’t make matters worse by assuming deep cuts to SNAP.

One of the harshest pieces of the 1996 welfare law, the provision limits childless adults to three months of SNAP benefits in any 36-month period unless they are working half time or participating in a training program.  It doesn’t require states and localities to help the affected people find jobs or provide a place in a job training program that would allow them to keep benefits — and very few do so.

Many states have temporarily waived the three-month limit in recent years due to high unemployment.  But as the economy continues to recover and unemployment falls, the waivers will end and more people will face the limit.

Low-income veterans are especially vulnerable to the time limit.  Unemployment for veterans serving since September 2001 remains high, averaging 9 percent in 2013 (the most recent year available).

The loss of SNAP benefits can have a serious impact on veteran and other low-income households.  People subject to the three-month limit have average monthly income of only about 19 percent of the poverty line — about $2,200 per year for a household of one in 2014 — and typically don’t qualify for other income support.

Maine’s SNAP Cutoff Foreshadows Tough Times for Poor Jobless Workers

February 4, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Maine cut several thousand people off SNAP (food stamps) this month after re-imposing a time limit on benefits for childless adults who aren’t working at least 20 hours per week — regardless of how hard they’re looking for a job.  The move foreshadows tough times for very poor unemployed workers across the country who can’t find work as the time limit returns in more areas.  Up to 1 million low-income unemployed adults risk losing SNAP benefits over the course of 2016.

The 1996 welfare law, which established the three-month limit, allowed states to waive it temporarily in areas with high unemployment.  Most governors have used this flexibility in recent years to suspend the time limit in response to the severe impact of the recession.  As the economy recovers and unemployment falls, though, more people will face the time limit.

Maine Governor Paul LePage chose to re-impose the time limit even though Maine’s unemployment was high enough to continue waiving it.  Some areas, like Piscataquis County, still struggle with unemployment rates over 8 percent.

The loss of SNAP benefits can have a serious impact.  People subject to the three-month limit have average monthly income of about 19 percent of the poverty line (about $2,200 per year for a household of one in 2014) and typically don’t qualify for other income support.

The time limit is especially harsh because state and local agencies don’t need to help the affected people find jobs or provide a place in a job training program that would allow them to keep benefits.

Unfortunately, the President’s 2016 budget doesn’t propose modifying the time limit to make it fairer, such as by requiring state SNAP agencies or local workforce programs to offer a work or training slot to people facing the loss of food benefits.  The budget boosts SNAP job training funds by $25 million per year, but that’s only enough, at best, to provide a place for one in ten people at risk of losing assistance.

Congress still has time to address this problem by reconsidering the harsh time limit and establishing a more reasonable work requirement.

Who Are the People Who Will Lose SNAP Next Year?

January 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm

This infographic summarizes basic facts about unemployed childless adults receiving SNAP (formerly food stamps), roughly 1 million of whom will be cut off SNAP over the course of 2016 — regardless of how hard they are looking for work — as a three-month time limit on benefits returns in many areas.  (Click here for full image. Click here for printable version.)

Congress should revise the harsh three-month cutoff to better accomplish its stated goal of testing individuals’ willingness to work.  If it doesn’t, some of the nation’s poorest people will lose an average of $150 to $200 a month in benefits.  This means food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens can expect a sustained increase in food requests because “there are not very many options to get help when you need food,” the operations director of a Bozeman, Montana, food bank explains.  Also, homeless shelters may see an increase in need as some people forgo rent payments to buy food.

1 Million People Facing Cutoff of SNAP Benefits Next Year

January 7, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Roughly 1 million of the nation’s poorest people will be cut off SNAP (formerly food stamps) over the course of 2016 — even if they’re looking for a job but can’t find one —because a three-month time limit on benefits for unemployed childless adults who aren’t disabled will return in many geographic areas.

As our new report explains, the affected people will lose an average of $150 to $200 per person per month.  For this group, that’s a dramatic loss.  People subject to the three-month limit have average monthly income of about 19 percent of the poverty line (about $2,200 per year for a household of one in 2014), and they typically don’t qualify for other income support.

Part of the 1996 welfare law, the three-month limit hasn’t been in effect in most states in recent years because states can waive it temporarily in areas with high unemployment.  But as unemployment rates fall, fewer areas will qualify for waivers, even though many people —including many lower-skilled workers — who want to work still can’t find jobs.  People subject to the three-month limit generally have limited education and skills and limited job prospects.

Some states that have already imposed the time limit have seen SNAP caseloads drop sharply — much faster than the slow decline they’d experienced due to an improving economy.  (In this economic recovery, like previous ones, SNAP caseloads have fallen as unemployment has improved.)  In Kansas, for example, the caseload decline three months after the time limit returned was more than triple the previous trend (see graph).

Unemployed childless adults can continue to receive SNAP beyond three months by participating in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week.  But very few states provide these programs to all who need them.  As a result, someone who wants to work but can’t find a job, and is willing to participate in job training but has no opportunity to do so, will lose his or her SNAP benefits after three months.

Congress still has time to mitigate the harm.  It could, for example, require a state to offer a job or training position or other work activity — or require job search — for all adults subject to the limit and continue benefits for all who comply.  Without any such action, food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens can expect a sustained increase in food requests from this large and widespread loss of assistance.

What’s more, community groups and service providers such as homeless shelters, low-income veterans’ groups, job training centers, and health clinics count on SNAP as a resource for their clients.  Those losing SNAP may be forced to choose between food and other necessities, like rent or medicine.

It’s not too early for states, community partners, and nonprofits to start preparing for the return of the three-month limit, which will have a big impact on the people they serve.