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Food Pantries Expect Longer Lines as SNAP Limit Kicks in

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“Around the country, food pantry directors are girding for an influx of hungry adults” as a three-month limit on SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits for unemployed, childless adults returns in many areas, the New York Times reports.  We estimate that at least 1 million people will lose SNAP benefits in 2016 due to the return of the harsh three-month limit.

Childless, nondisabled adults are limited to three months of SNAP benefits in any 36-month period unless they are working half time or participating in a training program.  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, fewer areas will qualify for waivers and more people will face the limit.

States and localities are not required to help the affected people find jobs or provide a place in a job training program that would allow them to keep benefits.  Very few do so, leaving it to the participants to find enough work or training to keep their benefits.

For every person lucky enough to find a qualified training or volunteering opportunity, many others can’t.  The Times cites a Maine woman whose training program to become a personal care aide doesn’t qualify her for continued benefits, which ended after the time limit returned.  “How do you expect people to live and feed themselves and survive with nothing?” she asks.

Maine isn’t the only state where many have lost benefits.  Wisconsin recently re-imposed the three-month limit, the New Republic reports, and food pantries there warn they may run out of food by next spring due to the expected surge in demand.

The consequences can be drastic.  As this infographic shows, those at risk of losing SNAP benefits are a diverse and extremely poor group.  (Click here for full image. Click here for printable version.)  The average income of childless, nondisabled adults on SNAP is just 19 percent of the poverty line, or $2,200 a year.


Congress can help by revising the three-month rule so that anyone willing and able to work could retain benefits.