Join the Fight to Protect Food Assistance for Young Adults
By Parker Gilkesson
Young adults who are unemployed and underemployed can receive nutrition assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But, on February 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) proposed a regulation that would take away food from about 755,000 struggling workers without children. Should this rule be finalized, it would disproportionately harm young adults.
Learning how to meet basic needs such as food and housing—while also finding a job, getting an education, and securing the skills needed in today’s job market—is daunting for any young adult. For many, the current labor market is challenging. The unemployment rates for teens (18- and 19-year-olds) and young adults (20- to 24-year-olds) are two and three times that of people aged 24-50. In 2018, teens had an average unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, while young adults’ average was 6.9 percent. Unemployment rates are even higher for young adults of color—16.5 percent among Black young adults and 10.8 percent among Latino young adults.
In addition, young adults are more likely than older workers to have jobs with low wages, inconsistent schedules, involuntary part-time work, and no benefits, such as paid leave. Young adults in these jobs need SNAP to help them meet basic needs. Under the proposed rule, many would lose SNAP when their work hours fall below 20 hours per week.
Under current federal law, childless adults aged 18-49 who are unemployed or underemployed are subject to a three-month time limit on their SNAP benefits. Young adults 18-29 disproportionately represent nearly half of these individuals. The proposed rule would take away state flexibility to “waive” this time limit in areas of high unemployment, going against the clear intent of the 2018 Farm Bill passed with strong bipartisan support in Congress last year to protect food assistance for millions and better connect SNAP recipients to meaningful jobs. Those who are unable to prove they are working at least 20 hours per week would be at risk of losing their nutrition benefits.
Furthermore, the proposed rule would be particularly harmful to young adults who struggle in the labor market because of discrimination, previous justice system involvement, disability, or lack of credentials. This includes more than 4.6 million Opportunity Youth—young adults ages 16 to 24 who are out of school and unemployed—more than one-third of whom live in poverty. The proposed SNAP rule would make it even more difficult for these young adults to achieve economic stability—penalizing them for their struggle to find stable employment by taking away basic nutrition.
SNAP is one of the largest and most important anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs in the United States. In addition to fighting hunger, SNAP improves the health, wellbeing, and academic success of recipients. SNAP also encourages work because as earnings rise, benefits phase out gradually. To successfully enter the workforce, young adults need resources such as SNAP to bridge the gap while they are unemployed or working less. Consequently, policies to restrict access to food based on the number of working hours do not benefit the development of young adults transitioning into work.
Because SNAP is an essential component of helping to improve educational and employment success—both of which are key to economic stability—we must fight efforts to further restrict access to SNAP. The proposed rule posted on February 1, 2019 is harsh and harmful to the young adults who would be disproportionately affected. But it is only a proposal. We can fight back by submitting public comments, which FNS must take into consideration before finalizing the rule.
Join us in the fight against this harsh proposed regulation. Click here to use our template comment. In your comment, we encourage you to add your own stories to describe why the proposal is harmful to young adults.
Please make your voice heard before the April 2 deadline.
Additional templates can be found here. To submit a comment directly to regulations.gov, click here. Our partners at the Food Research & Action Center have also set up an action page where you can learn more and submit a comment using their template.