Farm Bill Series: SNAP Work Requirements Won’t Work for Montana

May 03, 2018

It’s planting season in Montana – the time of year when we shake off a long winter and look forward to a season of bounty. That makes it the perfect time to discuss the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill. Over the next week, MBPC will be doing a blog series on the GOP’s Farm Bill, particularly its harsh treatment of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP, the country’s most effective anti-hunger program, serves roughly 120,000 Montanans, most of whom are children, elderly, or disabled. The proposed Farm Bill, however, would make it more difficult for all of millions of struggling Americans to put food on the table by imposing harsh work requirements on SNAP recipients. As many as two million SNAP recipients may lose their benefits because of these changes. With members of Congress home this week to hear from their constituents, let’s address some questions that you might be asking about the changes in the Farm Bill’s work requirements: Why are work requirements just plain unnecessary?   SNAP is designed to be a safety net when families encounter a difficult period – such as a loss of a job, an economic downturn, or a disaster like losing a home in a fire. The majority of SNAP recipients who can work already do work. In Montana, nearly half of households on SNAP are home to children under 18, over half have a member with a disability, and almost one-third have someone 60 years or older. Of non-disabled, non-elderly adults, more than half receiving SNAP do work in a typical month. Of those who aren’t working in the month studied, half either recently worked or will soon work again. This is because SNAP is not a deterrent to work – it’s a vital safety net when workers lose their jobs. And SNAP already has stringent work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependent children aged 18-50 (often referred to as ABAWDs). These adults are limited to receiving benefits for 3 months in 3 years unless they are meeting work requirements. Individuals who are pregnant, care for children or an incapacitated household member, or are certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment are exempt from the time limit. How do the new work requirements cause people to lose SNAP benefits? The CBO estimates that these new work requirements could knock an estimated 2 million recipients – particularly low-income, working families with kids – off of the SNAP rolls. Losing out on the ability to put food on the table can make an already trying time for a family even more difficult, making it harder to get back their feet. The proposed Farm Bill imposes much harsher work requirements on SNAP recipients, including those with children. Under the new legislation, workers aged 18-59 who are not disabled or raising a child under age 6, are required to work 80 hours a month (or receive job training), or lose their benefits for a year. After a second violation, they are locked out of the program for three years, unless they re-apply and meet the requirements by working half-time for a month. Who is hurt by work requirements? Unlike the current work requirements, which focus on ABAWDs, the work requirements under the new bill would also have harmful consequences for kids, elderly, and disabled Montanans. Take these scenarios for example: The Farm Bill’s harsh work requirements take food off the table of workers who can’t get enough shifts at their job, children whose parents are struggling to meet the requirements, and disabled or ill adults who might not be able to navigate the complicated bureaucracy to receive exemptions for themselves. Only about one-quarter of adults not receiving disability benefits don’t work or haven’t worked within a year of receiving SNAP benefits. Out of these adults: In Montana, 39,000 workers lived in households that received SNAP last year. Thirteen thousand of these workers were in the service industry – a field that often has shifting schedules and unsteady incomes. So work requirements won’t really help anyone, will they? Nope. SNAP helps people avoid hunger when they lose their jobs or face another hardship.  Work requirements will serve just to make a difficult situation worse. At a time when Congress just passed a massive, deficit-increasing tax bill, Montana’s congressional delegation should reconsider making lives more difficult for tens of thousands of Montanans. But workers and families aren’t the only people the proposed Farm Bill hurts. Stay tuned later when we discuss its impacts on Montana’s economy, and our state government. In the meantime, be sure to read our latest report on SNAP: SNAP Helps Grow a Healthy Workforce and a Health Economy.
Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.