Formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food stamps are a huge success in this country, where malnutrition amid wealth was commonplace little more than a generation ago. But what is the rationale for food stamps for a healthy working-age adult without children?
We don’t know that there is one, although the U.S. government is willing to fund that category of recipient so long as unemployment rates are high.
Being without work is no picnic, even with food stamps. But is the state being “absolutely heartless,” in the words of one advocate for the poor, by insisting on 20 hours a week of service, either in a job or at a nonprofit?
We don’t think so.
The change in state policy admittedly comes late in the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal, now running for president. It doesn’t save any state money, as SNAP is federally funded. Nor does the state’s employment situation look that great these days, particularly with low oil prices.
And state policy has for a long time been driven by national politics, so perhaps the perception that Louisiana is somehow soft on malingering adults worried the governor.
All that said, the waiver allowing food stamps for the some 64,000 adults was up for renewal and the state made the call.
Is this the right call from a pure policy standpoint?
Recipients of the average $194 per month benefit — not very lordly, if you’ve been to the supermarket lately — are in a position to work and can keep the benefits for job training or approved service in a nonprofit. This doesn’t seem onerous.
At the same time, we take the point of Jan Moller, of the Louisiana Budget Project, who points out that unemployment rates in many Louisiana parishes in the Mississippi Delta are very high. These mostly rural parishes are realistically not going to blossom into economic recovery overnight, whatever we might want to see.
Even in those hard cases, are there not opportunities for service in those areas, so that people can keep the food stamps, provide some helpful hands for good works and have the dignity of work?
Moller wants the state to reconsider in these hard cases and perhaps there is reason to, but let’s see how this initiative works out.
Nobody should go hungry but we don’t see that as inevitable under these new rules.