Research & Commentary: Alabama Should Re-Implement Work Requirements for SNAP

Published November 30, 2017

In 2018, Alabama legislators will consider a bill that would add work requirements to the state’s food stamp program. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the fourth-largest means-tested program for low-income families and individuals. One of the biggest problems with SNAP and a primary reason it grew so rapidly during the recent recession is that most states do not require recipients to actively seek employment.

Ordinarily, low-income, able-bodied adults without children are limited to receiving food stamps for only three months in a three-year period, unless they fulfill work requirements, which entail employment or participation in a training or “workfare” program for at least 20 hours per week. However, between 2009 and 2010 many states waived these requirements. As a result, 44 percent of SNAP recipients are neither employed nor actively searching for work. According to The Daily Signal, the SNAP caseload for low-income, able-bodied adults without children has skyrocketed over the past decade, from 900,000 in 2008 to 4.2 million in 2017, creating an additional cost of $8.5 billion per year for taxpayers.

In the past few years, states have begun to reinstate food stamp work requirements. Some did so of their own accord, while other states were no longer deemed eligible by the federal government to waive the requirements. Although some people will lose their food stamp benefits as these waivers end, the growth of SNAP is unsustainable. The real focus of the program must be temporary aid that encourages work and independence.

Under the law proposed in Alabama, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Human Resources would be prohibited from requesting a waiver of federal work requirements. The bill would also require able-bodied adults without dependents who are applicants or recipients of SNAP benefits to “participate in minimum work requirements, provide documentation of engaging in work training, or participate in volunteer community service and would provide limited exemptions from these work requirements.”

States that have enacted work requirements have enjoyed significant success. In Maine, able-bodied adult recipients without dependent children are required to work, participate in a work program for 20 hours per week, or do community service for about six hours per week. Since the reforms were implemented, the caseload in Maine for this population quickly dropped by 80 percent, falling from 13,332 in December 2014 to 2,678 recipients in March 2015. According to The Heritage Foundation, many individuals in Maine chose to leave the SNAP program rather than participate in training or community service, which means these individuals likely had other means of supporting themselves.

Work requirements are an important component of any welfare program; they ensure recipients do not become unnecessarily dependent on government aid. States should require all able-bodied recipients to engage in work-related activities to be eligible for food stamps, and lawmakers should reform other government assistance programs that trap low-income Americans in poverty by disincentivizing work.

The following articles provide additional information on SNAP.

The Power of Work: How Kansas’ Welfare Reform Is Lifting Americans Out of Poverty
In this study published by the Foundation for Government Accountability, Nic Horton and Jonathan Ingram examine Kansas’ welfare reforms and the effect they have had on food stamp enrollment. “With no welfare work requirement or time limit, just one in five able-bodied adults on food stamps worked. Nearly 93 percent of them were in poverty, most in severe poverty. Since implementing work requirements and time limits, the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps has dropped by 75 percent,” the authors wrote.

Maine Food Stamp Work Requirement Cuts Non-Parent Caseload by 80 Percent
Robert Rector, Rachel Sheffield, and Kevin Dayaratna of The Heritage Foundation examine Maine’s food stamp reforms and discuss how they could act as a model for other states. “The Maine food stamp work requirement is sound public policy. Government should aid those in need, but welfare should not be a one-way handout. Able-bodied, nonelderly adults who receive cash, food, or housing assistance from the government should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving aid. Giving welfare to those who refuse to take steps to help themselves is unfair to taxpayers and fosters a harmful dependence among beneficiaries,” the authors wrote.

Welfare Reform Report Card: A State-by-State Analysis of Anti-Poverty Performance and Welfare Reform Policies
In 2015, The Heartland Institute published an updated version of its Welfare Reform Report Card. This report card compiles extensive data on five “inputs” and five “outputs” of state welfare and anti-poverty programs and assigns a final grade to each state for its welfare policies.

Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis
In 2008, The Heartland Institute published Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis, which reports the welfare policy choices of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and then ranks the states by how aggressively they have implemented effective policies. The study provides policymakers with a roadmap to successful anti-poverty efforts.

Food Stamp Dependence in the States
This interactive map from Foundation for Government Accountability shows what percentage of each state’s population is dependent on food stamps and how much it costs the state.

Research & Commentary: Work Requirements Are a Necessary Component of Any SNAP Reform Plan–commentary-work-requirements-are-a-necessary-component-of-any-snap-reform-plan?source=policybot
In this Heartland Institute Research & Commentary, Matthew Glans examines the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and recent proposals to reform food stamp programs by restoring work requirements.

Welfare Rules Database 
The Urban Institute’s Welfare Rules Database provides a “comprehensive, sophisticated resource for comparing cash assistance programs between states” and for researching changes in cash assistance rules between states.

The Work Versus Welfare Tradeoff: 2013
The Cato Institute estimates the value of the full package of welfare benefits available to a typical recipient in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The study found welfare benefits outpace the income most recipients can expect to earn from an entry-level job, and the income gap between welfare and work may actually have grown worse in recent years.

More States Enforce Food Stamp Work Requirements
With the U.S. economy emerging from the recession, food stamp work requirements suspended during the downturn will be reinstated in many states, says Jake Grovum notes in Stateline.

Research & Commentary: SNAP Update and the Return of Work Requirements–commentary-snap-update-and-the-return-of-work-requirements?source=policybot
In this Heartland Institute Research & Commentary, Matthew Glans examines the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and recent proposals to reform food stamp programs by restoring work requirements.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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