What the Media Is Getting Wrong About the SNAP 3-Month Time Limit

There has been a good deal of media coverage over the last few weeks about the pending SNAP cuts affecting those the government labels as “Abled-Bodied Adults Without Disabilities,” better known as childless adults who may be struggling to get by and typically aren’t eligible for other forms of public assistance.

This April, 23 states will re-impose a 3 month time-limit on SNAP benefits – formerly Food Stamps – for hundreds of thousands of low-income adults. As a result, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates at least 500,000 to as many as 1 million SNAP recipients will have their benefits cut off in 2016.

This 3 month time limit, originally imposed in 1996 but waived by most states during the recent economic recession, means that unemployed and underemployed adults aged 18-49 who don’t qualify for disability or aren’t raising children will be cut off from SNAP after just 90 days. Starting April 1st, these individuals will no long receive their food assistance benefit, which average just $150 -$170 per month, barely enough to meet the most basic nutritional needs. These are our nation’s poorest of the poor, with average incomes around $2,000 per year.

However, they can continue to receive the assistance if they can secure a full-time job with at least 20 hours of work per week or enroll in the under resourced (and often unavailable) state job training programs.

But that can be easier said than done. This harsh time limit does not take into consideration if someone is working part time, but less than the 20 hour per week required, is actively looking for work but can’t find anything, or is willing to participate in a job training, but there are no programs in their county or there are no open slots. It does not consider if someone is a veteran, or homeless, or an ex-offender or struggling with addiction or mental health issues.

It may be tempting to look at this wave of SNAP cuts as simply a “work requirement” or a system to incentivize “able bodied” folks to work hard and become “deserving” of food assistance, as some of the media coverage will try to convey. But, without mandating that states offer employment or job training opportunities for this at-risk population and/or raise the minimum wage, a 3-month time limit that demands folks who face huge barriers to employment secure full-time work is downright shortsighted. For this population, already struggling on the bottom rungs, the research shows this time limit will simply mean more hunger and hardship.

The nation’s food access organizations, advocacy groups and activists are bracing for yet another wave of Americans slipping through our deteriorating safety net. We cannot stand by and allow hunger in the U.S. to continue to grow. There is the Fight for $15, proposals to boost the earned income tax credit for childless adults and important legislation protecting the right to nutritious food for all that we can and must continue to support.

Watch this video from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to learn more:

Debbie DePoala