A change to the rules for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) proposed Feb. 1 by President Trump’s administration would substantially limit Louisiana’s ability to provide food assistance to childless adults who have a hard time finding work. The new rule, which curtails the state’s flexibility to support jobless or underemployed people without dependents, would take food off the tables of thousands of Louisianans who struggle with hunger.
The program limits food stamps to 3 months of eligibility out of every 36 months for childless adults working fewer than 20 hours per week, regardless of whether they are working part time or actively searching for work. Since 1998, due to high rates of unemployment in the state, Louisiana has received either a partial or a full exemption from this time limit. Currently, the entire state is waived from the requirement.
The new federal rule would sharply reduce the state’s flexibility in determining areas of high unemployment, and thus expose thousands of Louisiana’s poorest residents to the loss of benefits which can only be used to buy food.
Those who are subject to the three-month time limit on SNAP benefits are typically very poor, and face significant barriers to employment. Many have very limited access to transportation, have no high school or college diploma, live in rural areas where work is scarce, have a criminal record that limits their employment prospects, or suffer from undiagnosed mental or physical illness.
Even so, most childless adults receiving SNAP benefits do work; about three-quarters are employed either while receiving food stamps or in the year before or after they receive food stamps. But often the jobs they qualify for do not provide enough hours or stable enough hours for them to consistently meet a rigid work requirement. Nationally, 70 percent of this population earns less than $6,070 a year. SNAP benefits are modest, averaging $132 per person, per month in Louisiana. It’s far from a luxurious allotment.
Traditionally, SNAP has functioned as a work support for people earning very low wages, and as a backstop for those facing unemployment. Supporters of the administration’s proposed rule change argue that taking food assistance away from people struggling to find steady work will push them into the workforce. But limiting the ability of unemployed or underemployed people to put food on the table won’t help them to find a better job or to find work faster, nor will it remove the barriers that keep them from good paying jobs.
The proposed rule would provide no additional resources for job skills training or workforce development. It would, however, leave many more Louisianans hungry, including many of the state’s poorest residents.
Poverty, joblessness, underemployment, and work that pays far below what people need to make ends meet are real problems in Louisiana. Taking food aid away from the hungry, as this rule change will do, will not solve those problems.
Louisiana Budget Project