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Food Banks Brace for Long Lines as Thousands Lose SNAP Benefits

April 20, 2016 at 12:30 PM

Across the country, food banks and other organizations that serve the needy are preparing for long lines as childless adults begin losing SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits due to the return in over 20 states of a three-month time limit for able-bodied adults.  Federal law limits adults aged 18-49 who aren’t raising minor children to three months of SNAP out of every three years unless they’re working at least 20 hours a week or participating in a job training program at least 20 hours a week.  More than half a million people will lose SNAP over the course of the year due to the time limit.

The time limit is “going to increase hunger among some of the most vulnerable Mississippians,” says Matt Williams of the Mississippi Center for Justice.  “I think it will further stress service providers who are already trying to fill a gap in the available food assistance programs, and I think we will see their resources stretched to the max with increased demand.”  In Mississippi alone, 50,000 people may lose benefits this year due to the time limit, the state estimates.

In New York State, Erica Santiago of the Food Bank for Westchester predicts, “We're not going to run out of food, but it may mean that people get three days’ worth instead of seven days’ worth. . . .  This will also impact people who aren't losing their benefits — there's a trickle down effect.”

Under the time limit, people can lose benefits even if they are looking for and can’t find work, or if no spots are available in a job training program.  The time limit “was based on the assumption that there are work programs to help these people and there are no programs. They cost too much,” Lucy Potter of Greater Hartford Legal Aid in Connecticut says.

The time limit is especially difficult for people with barriers to work, such as limited education and skills.  Most childless adults aren’t eligible for other forms of government assistance, and their incomes while receiving SNAP average less than one-third of the poverty line.

The people expected to lose SNAP due to the time limit “tend to be some of the poorest of the poor, some of the hardest to employ,” says Mike Miller of the Food Bank of Alaska.  “They are typically of limited education . . .  they’re the hardest people to try and find a job.”

Noting that an estimated 21,000 people in Arizona may lose benefits, Angie Rodgers of the Association of Arizona Food Banks explains, “My concern is there certainly aren’t 21,000 jobs available. . . .  So there are going to be some individuals who will be left without employment and they will also be left without food to get the job, so I’m concerned about what will happen to them in the short term.”