More than 1 million low-income residents in 21 states could soon lose their government food stamps if they fail to meet work requirements that began kicking in this month.
The rule change in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was triggered by the improving economy — specifically, falling unemployment. But it is raising concerns among the poor, social service providers and food pantry workers, who fear an influx of hungry people.
Recent experience in other states indicates that most of those affected will probably not meet the work requirements and will be cut off from food stamps.
Advocates say some adults trying to find work face a host of obstacles, including criminal records, disabilities or lack of a driver's license.
The work-for-food requirements were first enacted under the 1996 welfare reform law signed by President Bill Clinton and sponsored by then-Rep. John Kasich, who is now Ohio's governor and a Republican candidate for president.
The provision applies to able-bodied adults ages 18 through 49 who have no children or other dependents in their home. It requires them to work, volunteer or attend education or job-training courses at least 80 hours a month to receive food aid. If they don't, their benefits are cut off after three months.I know that most of us will read this story and think---so what? If they are able bodied why not work for to feed themselves. But a second moment of reflection will reveal more of an answer---many of these people just can't---they are too isolated, too damaged, too despairing to take on positions in our rapidly morphing economy, one which has fewer and fewer places for people hurt and hurting people to fit in.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture can waive those work rules, either for entire states or certain counties and communities, when unemployment is high and jobs are scarce. Nearly every state was granted a waiver during the recession that began in 2008. But statewide waivers ended this month in at least 21 states, the largest group since the recession.
An Associated Press analysis of food aid figures shows that nearly 1.1 million adults stand to lose their benefits in those 21 states if they do not get a job or an exemption. That includes about 300,000 in Florida, 150,000 in Tennessee and 110,000 in North Carolina. The three states account for such a big share because they did not seek any further waivers for local communities.
What's going to happen? I think we know how this will go---in a decade, we'll see deaths among young and middle-aged adults continue to climb. Meanwhile, the lucky among the workless, those permanently marginalized from the rapidly shrinking employment economy due to addiction, mental illness, criminal record, or family responsibilities, will rely on kind-hearted family members for their survival, people whose own well-being will be increasingly under stress as they attempt to feed more people. At some point in the next ten or twenty years, people in China or India, maybe even Nigeria, will be holding telethons to raise money to feed the starving---in the US.
A final irony---according to Robin, the Clinton push to 'end welfare as we know it' was part of the political strategy to 'deblackify' the democratic party, yet of course, the excess deaths we are observing are in the white population.