Research & Commentary: Establishing Work Requirements for SNAP Has and Can Work

Published July 28, 2017

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as the Food Stamp system, has become one of the fastest-growing welfare programs. SNAP is the fourth-largest means-tested program for low-income families and individuals. One of the biggest problems with SNAP and the reason it grew so quickly during the recent recession is the lack of any requirement that recipients 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 a week.

Before 2009, recipients were required to work or participate in a work training program in order to receive long-term benefits, but many states waived those requirements between 2009 and 2010. 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; others became ineligible for the waivers. 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.

States that have enacted work requirements have enjoyed significant success. In Maine, able-bodied adults 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. According to The Heritage Foundation, in Maine, many individuals 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.

Since the new reforms were implemented, the caseload in Maine for able-bodied adults without dependent children quickly dropped by 80 percent, falling from 13,332 in December 2014 to 2,678 recipients in March 2015. Heritage estimates the proposed reforms could save taxpayers “around $90 billion over the next 10 years, or roughly 13 percent of the program’s 2018-27 projected spending.”

According to the Alabama Department of Human Resources, an 85 percent drop in food stamp participation occurred after work requirements were put into place on January 1, 2017.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation  claims by the end of the first three months of the state’s restored work requirements, the number of adults receiving benefits in three participating Georgia counties dropped 58 percent. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reported 21 additional counties restoring the work requirements experienced a 62 percent drop in SNAP participants.

Work requirements are an important component of any welfare program; they ensure recipients do not become dependent on government aid and instead move back into the workforce. In The Heartland Institute’s Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis, Gary MacDougal, Kate Campaigne, and Dane Wendell argue encouraging work affects more than just household income: “Work improves family well-being economically, by providing a steady source of income and the opportunity to acquire assets, as well as socially and culturally. Work builds self-esteem, imposes order on adults’ lifestyles, creates role models for children, and fosters relationships of respect between adults and between adults and children. Many problems in disadvantaged families often trace back to not having a member of the household in the workforce.”

States should have an immediate requirement for recipients to engage in work-related activities to be eligible for TANF and food stamps. States should also reform assistance programs that trap low-income Americans in poverty by disincentivizing work.

The following articles provide additional information on SNAP.

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.

Maine Entitlement Reforms, Audits Cut ‘SNAP’ Fraud Rates
Kimberly Morin writes in Budget & Tax News about entitlement reforms in Maine which have led to a decline in the amount of one type of program fraud occurring in the state.

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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