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Farm Bill Amendment Would Pay States to Cut Off SNAP Benefits for People Who Want to Work But Can’t Find Jobs

The House today approved a stunning, extreme amendment to the farm bill from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) that would allow states to require most adults who receive or apply for SNAP — including parents with children as young as 1 year old and many people with disabilities — to work or participate in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week or else have their entire family’s SNAP benefits cut off.

The amendment provides no jobs and no funds for work or training programs, and it does not require states to make any work opportunities available.  People who want to work and are looking for a job but haven’t found one could be cut off.

And the amendment gives states a powerful financial incentive to do this.  It allows them to keep half of the savings from cutting these people off and to use the money for whatever they want — tax cuts, special-interest subsidies, or anything else.

This is one of the most extreme SNAP amendments to be offered in the program’s history.

People who want to work and would accept any job or work slot they could get, but cannot find jobs in a weak economy, could be left without food.  If they are parents, the state could terminate the entire family’s benefit.  In fact, not only does the amendment provide no jobs and new funds for work programs; it bars states from spending more on SNAP employment and training than they do now.

States could apply these requirements to people who have long been exempt from SNAP’s work requirements, such as parents with very young children and parents with elementary-school-aged children who do not have child care for their children after school or in the summer.  States could even apply the requirements to disabled adults who cannot work or can’t find a job, including disabled veterans.

Parents who receive, or are eligible for, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) would be exempt.  But all other adults, including childless adults on SSI or SSDI, as well as people with a disability that makes it impossible for them to work but isn’t severe enough for them to qualify for those benefits — such as multiple fractured limbs from a severe automobile accident — would not be exempt.

SNAP (and virtually all other such programs) has long allowed states to temporarily excuse people with temporary disabilities (e.g., someone recovering from a serious accident or major surgery) from its work requirements.  This amendment drops those temporary exemptions.  Disabled adults who aren’t parents or aren’t receiving one of these two disability benefits would not be exempt.  Even veterans receiving disability compensation because of a severe combat injury could lose their exemption and be terminated from SNAP if they couldn’t find a job.

In addition, the amendment would prohibit states that take up this option from protecting vulnerable childless adults in areas with high unemployment.  Under current law, childless adults aged 18-50 cannot receive SNAP for more than three months in a three-year period unless they are working or participating in a work or training program (for which slots generally are not available) for at least 20 hours a week; but states can request temporary waivers for adults who live in areas where jobs are extremely scarce, such as during recessions.  Almost every state, and governors of both parties, received these waivers during the recent economic downturn.  The amendment would prohibit these waivers.

Yet, as noted above, states would have a strong incentive to accept these draconian restrictions because they could keep half of the savings from cutting families off SNAP.

The bottom line?  Under the Southerland amendment, large numbers of poor jobless families would likely lose food assistance (or be denied it in the first place) and experience hardship and destitution, while state political leaders would receive windfalls to use as they wish.