SNAP Supports Work, Helps Families Stabilize

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food assistance to nearly 44 million people. A majority (70 percent) of recipients are children, elderly, or disabled. SNAP also supplements wages for low-income workers, who often don’t earn enough to climb out of poverty as well as maintain food security for themselves and their families. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, 58 percent earn income from employment while enrolled in SNAP. Moreover, 82 percent have employment income in the year prior to or following SNAP enrollment, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The share of households working while receiving SNAP has risen over the last two decades—even during the Great Recession. Unfortunately, many jobs don’t provide family-sustaining wages. In recent years, full-time jobs have been replaced with part-time jobs that lack adequate hours, do not offer paid leave, and have volatile and changing schedules. These jobs are particularly prevalent among low-income workers and create a domino effect of burdens on families. Parents with variable schedules are forced to miss work to care for children, face challenges in finding stable child care, lose income due to missed shifts, and often can’t make ends meet. For these families, safety net programs are crucial to ensure economic stability.
Regrettably, some proposed policies would deny SNAP benefits to people who aren’t meeting participation requirements. This would severely exacerbate hunger and poverty. SNAP already imposes a time limit on unemployed or underemployed childless individuals, even if they are actively seeking employment or employed up to 19 hours per week. States aren’t required to offer these recipients employment or training opportunities—and most don’t. In April 2016, when many states reinstated the time limit, the number of SNAP recipients dropped by 773,000 in a one-month period.
Additionally, some states require all SNAP recipients to participate in employment and training activities, and those who fail to comply may lose their benefits. These mandatory programs have not been shown to improve participants’ employability, but rather restrict access to nutrition assistance. Instead of doubling down on failed strategies, states should develop effective employment and training opportunities that align with proven programs like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). 
In an economy where many workers don’t earn enough to support themselves and their families, it’s time to stop attacking those who need nutrition assistance. Instead, we should agree that SNAP is a critical support for those who can’t work, households with low wages, and individuals seeking jobs.