Commentary: A Work Requirement for Food Stamps Isn’t Too Much to Ask

by Robert Romano


The conference committee for H.R. 2, the farm bill, has stripped out its additional work requirements as a condition for collecting food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The provision would have required able-bodied adults to work a minimum of 20 hours a week starting in 2021 and 25 hours starting in 2026 in order to be eligible for the program, with certain exceptions.

For example, if the Secretary of Agriculture determined that the local area unemployment rate was in excess of 10 percent, the work requirements could be waived for that applicant, which would capture communities hit by adverse economic conditions.

Other exceptions are already in current law. For example, a stay-at-home mother is already exempt from existing work requirements.

Under current law, able-bodied adults not excepted have to seek employment in order to qualify for the food stamps. The reform would have required that they find work.

Ironically, 26.3 percent of nondisabled adults in single-person households aged 18-49 in SNAP already work, and 45.6 percent of multi-person households of the same category had an individual who worked in that household, according to data compiled by the Department of Agriculture for FY 2016. Together, that comprises about 780,000 individuals and another 259,000 multi-person households that are already working.

The flip side of that are 2.2 million individuals not disabled in single-person households, and another 308,000 multi-person households without anyone working and earning any income. These are people who could work in principle but are not. The labor participation rates are quite low.

Presumably, if the work requirements were bumped up from simply having to apply for a job to actually having to find a job, two things would happen. These individuals would earn more money without sacrificing eligibility in the program, and the odds they could eventually leave the program would go up significantly.

That’s about the size of it. Significant percentages of nondisabled food stamp recipients already work and if they live in local areas with less than 10 percent unemployment, there’s no reason they could not be seeking and finding work. It’s not too much to ask.

What is disappointing is that Congress was unwilling in the end to even try such a program, even on a trial basis, phased in over years, as per the House proposal. As if the reform could not be curtailed if there were unintended, negative consequences that had been unforeseen.

Maybe they were afraid it might work.

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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.












Reprinted with permission from

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