No joke: 500k food stamp recipients to lose benefits on April 1

© Jim Young
More than 500,000 Americans receiving food stamp benefits will no longer qualify for them beginning on April 1. This is a result of government requirements linking the assistance to an individual’s ability to find a job and work.

In order to keep their access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) for more than three months, able-bodied adults ages 18-49 who don’t have children or other dependents must work, volunteer, or enroll in a job-training program for 20 hours a week or more.

Back in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, the work requirements for SNAP were waived due to cratering job prospects and an unstable global economy. As economic indicators improved, lawmakers began debating whether to reinstate the requirements, with conservatives arguing that the rule encourages people to find work and liberals saying it would harm those still struggling with poverty.

The requirements came back on the books in 40 states at the start of 2016, according to The Atlantic. That means the first phase of people on SNAP will see their benefits expire on April 1, and the number could add up to more than half a million Americans.

In Missouri, some 30,000 people could be kicked off the program on Friday, WDAF News reported. State lawmakers passed a bill removing the work requirement waiver last year.

In Tennessee, roughly 150,000 people could lose their food stamps this year as a result of the work requirement, according to WJHL.

By the end of 2016, up to a million people around the nation could lose their benefits.

Supporters of the rule, generally falling into the Republican camp, say that requiring a job or some form of volunteer work is overdue, considering the unemployment rate has dropped from 10 percent in 2009 to under five percent as of February 2016.

After Kansas brought back work requirements in 2013, the number of people receiving assistance dropped by 20,000, but their incomes rose 127 percent, Fox News reported.

"I believe most Americans and most Kansans think it's common sense," said Andrew Wiens of the Kansas Department for Children & Families to the news outlet. "These are able-bodied adults without dependents. They don't have children in the home. They're not elderly, they're not disabled. These folks should be working."

Conservatives have often criticized federal funding for SNAP as excessive. In 2001, the government spent some $18 billion on the program. By 2015, spending had spiked to $74 billion, CBS News reported. After cutting benefits in 2013 by seven percent, Republicans in Washington are eyeing another set of cuts that would reduce spending by $150 billion over the next 10 years.

Democrats, along with many organizations running food banks and charities, have cautioned that cutting SNAP benefits is more harmful than beneficial. Many of those who are set to be kicked off the program generally earn only $2,000 a year and may not have the means to find work, since they may lack basic necessities such as a means of transportation. States aren’t required to help people get job training, or create new programs if current ones are full.

And while the job market in the US has improved over the years, wage growth has been much slower.

"SNAP cuts of the magnitude that the House Budget Committee proposes would almost certainly lead to increases in hunger and poverty," the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities said in a recent report. "Under the plan's steep funding cuts, a typical household's SNAP benefits would run out many days earlier (than usual), placing greater strain on household finances (and on emergency food providers) and significantly increasing the risk of hunger."

That strain on finances and emergency food providers has been apparent since the 2013 SNAP cuts, and some organizations say it will potentially get worse this year. The US Department of Agriculture, which operates SNAP, suggests that people who no longer receive benefits contact their local food bank if they need food.

“We don’t have the resources to take on the continued erosion of our safety net,” Triada Stampas of the Food Bank for New York City told CityLabs.

In St. Louis, food bank organizers told WDAF that the new SNAP rules will most affect the people and families who are already struggling.

"I hear people say, 'oh you are enabling people by giving them food,' and I say, 'Please come out with me on the days that the food pantries are open and see people lined up an hour to an hour and a half before the pantry even opens because they want to make sure they get something, sometimes even holding their child because they can't afford childcare to take them somewhere, and tell me that they want to be there,'" Ryan Farmer of the St. Louis Area Food Bank said.