Threats to SNAP from Many Directions

By Jessica Gehr and Nune Phillips

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program that helps feed over 42 million low-income people each year. Most SNAP recipients are children, seniors, or people with disabilities. SNAP is also a critical work support program, as many workers need it to help pay for food while they are employed or are between jobs. This year, SNAP is facing an onslaught of legislative and administrative threats—at the state and federal levels.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker today signed legislation that will make it harder for people to access food assistance through FoodShare, the state’s SNAP program. The package of bills ignores the reality of today’s labor market and endorses misconceptions about FoodShare participants.

The Wisconsin legislation will expand the number of people mandated to participate in the state’s FoodShare Employment & Training program (FSET) program, including parents with children over age 6. It requires them to participate 30 hours per week or lose their benefits. This is in addition to SNAP’s 3-month time limit for childless adults, which resulted in 86,000 Wisconsinites losing SNAP between July 2015 and December 2017. Decades of evidence in SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) have shown that work requirements don’t increase employment or reduce poverty. Instead, they cut people off from critical food assistance and create burdensome administration. The reality is that most people who can work do work. However, they work in predominantly low-wage jobs with unstable and fluctuating hours. Imposing work requirements will make it even harder to find and maintain employment.

Along with expanding work requirements, Wisconsin is reinstating asset restrictions, which will make it harder for people to save and to build a foundation for long-term financial independence. Asset limits will also burden the state agency that administers FoodShare, forcing it to waste time collecting and verifying information. For these reasons, the majority of states have eliminated asset limits for those on SNAP. This step undermines Wisconsin’s years of hard work improving its food assistance programs and will force the state into an excessive amount of unnecessary paperwork and outdated processes.

Similar changes are also threatened at the federal level. The Farm Bill, which authorizes SNAP, expires on September 30, 2018. Although no bill text has been released, media reports indicate that House Republicans will include deep cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill that would throw millions of people off the program. These rumored changes endanger the long-term bipartisan commitment to preventing hunger.

SNAP also faces administrative threats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently solicited comments on whether to change certain rules about SNAP’s three-month time-limit for Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs). USDA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to request input on expanding the number of people subject to the time limit and taking away the flexibility states have to mitigate harm. CLASP submitted comments expressing our concern about the Trump Administration’s attempt to further restrict food assistance. We also explained how the ANPRM could lead to more people losing SNAP, making it harder for people to find and keep work.

Taking food assistance from working families, seniors, and people struggling to find a job is the wrong approach. Rather than cutting SNAP and restricting access, states, Congress, and the administration should build on SNAP’s success in improving short- and long-term health, educational, and employment outcomes for children and families.