45 million Americans rely on food stamps, 1 million about to lose them – report
One in seven Americans still depends on food stamps, according to Bloomberg News. Now with the US economy on the rebound, some states are imposing time limits on the program, and that could mean trouble for the 45.4 million people relying on them.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, is the formal name for food stamps. Enrollment in SNAP exploded during the 2007-2009 recession when state and federal governments encouraged citizens to take advantage of aid. However, the apparent improvement in the US economy as a whole has not reached some of the country’s citizens.
Instead, the economic improvement has caused increased restrictions on food stamps. For example, adults in 22 states will now only receive their SNAP benefits until April due to a three-month cap, NPR reported. Prior to the recession, many states limited the amount of time for which able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-49 could receive food stamps while being unemployed to three months. But after it began, many states waived the three-month limit and acknowledged that jobs were difficult to come by.
The time limit on food stamps is a hangover from the 1996 welfare reforms, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). The CBPP also says that the individuals most likely to lose their food stamps as a result of the time limit earn about 17 percent of the poverty line.
According to Bloomberg, the average SNAP recipient earned a net monthly income of $335. With food stamps providing $150 to $170 per person a month, this could be trouble for those struggling to find work.
States were able to waive the three-month limit through grants from the federal government, and in order to qualify for an increased grant to remove the limits, states had to prove that they had high unemployment rates. For example, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Mississippi could continue to waive the three-month limit due to their high unemployment rates, NPR reports.
However, not all states with high unemployment will take advantage of the waiver option. Some, such as Mississippi, have individually elected to revert back to the time limit.
In order to continuing to qualify for food stamps, childless recipients who are not taking care of anyone else must prove that they are actively searching for jobs as well as accept any reasonable job that is offered. They must work 80 hours a month, participate in job training programs (that, according to NPR, are not offered everywhere) or volunteer with a state-approved agency. For people struggling to find a job in areas that have not had the waiver, their lives could potentially be disrupted.
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The Associated Press reports that directors at nonprofit food banks are expecting at least a temporary surge in demand as people lose their food stamps. There is also concern that people living in areas with low food security could be forced to skip meals throughout their day. The USDA defines food insecurity as “access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.”
According to the USDA, 14 percent of households in America were food insecure in 2014. Mississippi, a state that did not seek an extension for the waiver, has one of the highest rates in the countries with 22 percent of households being food insecure, the Washington Times reports.
While some are at risk of losing their benefits, others are able to enjoy them for the first time. On Monday, Alabama lawmakers decided to do away with another 1996 federal law and opened up SNAP eligibility to felons with drug convictions. According to the law, “people with felony convictions for drug offenses were given a lifetime ban from receiving food stamps,”AL.com reports. Thirty-nine states have lifted their ban since it was enacted