Last week’s announcement that the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services will cut off food assistance to unemployed adults without children is deeply disappointing. The stated rationale for the decision, that it will encourage and increase self-sufficiency, is misguided and draconian. The decision ignores economic realities in the state, especially in economically depressed parishes. It also ignores the responsibility of the government to protect, rather than undermine, human dignity and human life.
In October 2009, the height of the recent Great Recession, the national unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent. This level of unemployment sparked a change in policies governing federal assistance programs to accommodate the growing number Americans who couldn’t afford food, shelter and other basic needs. For example, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2010 temporarily lifted the three-month limit on the food stamp program for able-bodied adults without dependents who are unemployed. Although each state had the option to continue to enforce the time limit, our state officials made the logical and compassionate decision to allow Louisianians to continue to get help putting food on the table while they struggled to find work. That time limit went back into effect on Oct. 1 of this year, due to the state’s decision to not reapply for a federal waiver. This means that 64,000 adults in the state are at risk of losing food assistance if they are unable to find at least a part time position by Jan. 1.
Economic recovery has been most pronounced in the southern portion of the state, while in central and northern Louisiana, the economy has been stagnant. In three parishes in the Mississippi Delta, for example, the unemployment rate is still in the double digits. In 31 of the state’s 64 parishes, the unemployment rate still is more than 7 percent, which is above the threshold the Federal Reserve established as a measure of significant economic progress. In those parishes, the effects of the recession continue today, yet state officials have decided that the response to economic hardship that made sense for the state in 2010 should not apply to those still experiencing the same challenges. The decision is not set in stone, however, and our state leaders still can choose to make the compassionate choice and apply for the federal waiver for those areas where high unemployment still undermines human dignity and deprives Louisianans of the ability to meet their own basic needs.
economic policy specialist, Jesuit Social Research Institute
Jane F. Remson
director, Bread for the World New Orleans