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Louisiana Purchase Automated Benefit Card

Scott Centorino’s recent letter (“Reform Welfare to Encourage Work,” Aug. 23) rests on a fundamentally false premise, that if you take away food and health care from people who are struggling to get by, they will be more likely to work and become self-sufficient.

In reality, taking food from people’s tables and cutting off access to medical care does nothing to help them find work. Instead, it takes away key support from people with limited resources just when they can least afford it.

The research is clear on the work reporting requirements that Centorino advocates: They most often harm the people they’re supposed to help. A 2016 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that employment increases among people subject to work reporting requirements were modest — and faded over time. The requirements were more likely to leave people in extreme poverty than to lift them above the poverty line.

Work reporting requirements are out of touch with the reality of low-wage work. For example, most people on SNAP are employed, but their jobs often come with unstable hours in addition to low pay. Because Louisiana’s unemployment rate remains high compared to the national average, the state is currently exempt from SNAP’s work requirements. But if Louisiana were to lose that exemption, some recipients would be limited to three months of food assistance in three years, for months in which they aren’t able to report 80 hours of work. This means that a waitress whose hours are cut during a slow summer month might see the effects of their lower wages compounded when they lose food assistance the following month.

Surely the workers who put food on restaurant tables deserve to keep food on their own, even if their boss cuts down their work.

Secondly, the reporting requirements that Centorino advocates come with burdensome paperwork requirements. Experience has shown that many people who work the required number of hours still lose access to benefits because of red tape, computer problems, or other bureaucratic snafus.

A recent study of Medicaid work reporting requirements in Arkansas, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that 97% of people subject to the requirements either worked the required number of hours or qualified for an exemption. Still, 18,000 of the 100,000 people targeted by the rule lost their health coverage. For some people, this meant skipping the medications that allowed them to work, and losing their jobs as a result.

Everyone in our state deserves to eat when they are hungry and to see a doctor when they are sick. With 1 in 6 people in our state struggling to put food on the table, Louisiana can’t afford to kick its residents with the fewest resources to the curb.


Louisiana Budget Project

New Orleans

Letters: Reform welfare to encourage work