5. ON THE LIST: THE FOOD STAMP CUT-OFF
The people who need food aid the most are gonna lose it.
Every week, The Shit List shares one problem. Here’s what we’re adding.
On April 1st, as many as one million unemployed Americans will begin losing their food stamps. The people at risk have an average annual income of just $2,000 — or 17 percent of the poverty line — and rely on food aid for basic nutritional needs. They’re getting screwed because of a strict time limit that cuts off food benefits after only three months, no matter how diligently a recipient has tried to find work.
A 1996 welfare law states that childless, able-bodied adults will lose access to food stamps after three months, unless they find a full-time job.
States are able to waive this time limit in areas with high unemployment — in fact, during and since the Great Recession, these restrictions were largely bypassed. But as unemployment rates fall across the country, fewer states qualify for waivers. The time limit was reinstated in 23 states in January. By the end of the year, 40 states will lose their exemption.
As a result, between 500,000 and one million Americans living under the poverty line will be cut off from food aid this year… even though their lives haven’t improved at all.
The three-month time limit targets the most vulnerable members of society, without accounting for the extreme circumstances that make it difficult for them to find jobs — even when they try. The fact is, unemployment rates for less-educated and low-skill workers remain substantially higher than the national average.
Of the individuals subject to the time limit, 75 percent have an education level of high school or below, meaning they face significant barriers to employment. They often lack basic skills like reading, writing and simple math. Many suffer from PTSD, depression or learning disabilities.
Santonio Rogers is a homeless, epileptic black man in Milwaukee who never completed high school. Food aid is his only source of income — $194 each month. He should be exempt from the time limit because of his epilepsy, but he can’t prove his condition without a doctor’s note.
“You’re taking from us when we barely have nothing as it is,” he told VICE. He’s right — the overall decline in unemployment has triggered massive food stamp cuts for people who are still jobless, and who still need help.
There are several big improvements to the federal welfare provision that haven’t made it through Congress. In 2002 and 2008, the Senate tried toextend the time limit to six months in order to provide a more realistic time frame for people seeking employment. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that state unemployment benefits typically last six months. But, it didn’t happen.
Legislation has also been introduced in the House and Senate to include “job search” as an acceptable work activity. Again, not unreasonable — people who are willing to work shouldn’t be punished for a harsh labor market and limited resources.
One of the people who originally created the time limit, John Kasich (yes, that one), said the requirement wouldn’t have disastrous impact because states would provide job training programs. Spoiler: they didn’t. But they could! If enacted, these programs would satisfy the work requirement and provide a path to employment.
We’re in deep shit, but there are a lot of ways to start digging ourselves out. Will Congress grab a shovel? Well…
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