Senior Policy Analyst
SNAP’s harsh three-month limit on food assistance, which the Administration wants to make even harsher, reflects the idea that taking food away from jobless adults will lead them to work or earn more. But repeated studies, including a new report from the nonprofit consulting firm ideas42, conclude that work requirements in public assistance programs don’t work.
Time limits and work requirements don’t help people in public assistance programs find and keep jobs that lift them out of poverty, years of peer-reviewed studies show. One reason why: their fatal design flaws prevent them from achieving their purported goal, as the ideas42 report shows from the perspective of behavioral science, which focuses on how people make decisions in complex situations and based on imperfect information.
For over 20 years, SNAP benefits have been limited to three months in a three-year period for adults between 18 and 49 years old who can’t document that they work at least 20 hours a week, participate in a qualifying training activity, or are exempt due to poor health or another impediment to employment. The Administration recently proposed making that policy even harsher by prohibiting waivers of the time limit, which would cost 755,000 jobless adults who are not caring for children their SNAP benefits.
The ideas42 report points out three critical failings of work requirements, which help show why the time limit isn’t an effective way to boost employment. From a behavioral science perspective, the time limit:
These findings mirror what we already know about SNAP’s time limit — that it takes food assistance away from many people who want to work but can’t find a job or need additional support to address barriers to employment.
The report suggests common-sense ways of supporting employment, such as investing in effective training programs that provide the kinds of supports that participants need; ensuring that vulnerable members of a family, including elderly relatives and children not in the SNAP household, receive the caregiving they need; and raising take-home pay.