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Kentucky Called A 'Warning Signal' On SNAP Work Requirements

SNAP is the largest government program in the domestic hunger safety net.
Courtesy USDA
SNAP is the largest government program in the domestic hunger safety net.

The federal government is considering a work requirement for some people who get food assistance through SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A new study uses Kentucky as an example of what that change could mean for the country.

The SNAP rules require 80 hours of work a month and cap assistance at three months over three years. This applies to able-bodied adults without children. The rules have been around for a while but hadn’t been enforced until recently.

“Those requirements were waived for several years during the recession and that was pretty much true across the entire country. And then slowly as the economy has improved, you know, a number of states have begun reinstating those stricter requirements and benefit limits,” said Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the non-profit Urban Institute and anauthor of the report.

The pending rules would make it more difficult for states to get a waiver. She said Kentucky offered a “natural experiment” to show the impact of putting the work requirements into effect.

She said the study explored the difference between eight Kentucky counties that retained the waiver and the surrounding counties that did not. Both groups have similar high rates of poverty and unemployment.

Waxman said the counties that retained the waiver were part of a federal pilot program called Paths 2 Promise, which provides SNAP participants with job training and other forms of support in eastern Kentucky.

The different outcomes were pretty dramatic, she said.  

“What we see is that during that time the decrease in the waived areas is only about 2 percent of the whole SNAP caseload for this group, but it’s about 44 percent for the counties in the surrounding area. And that’s a huge difference,” she said.

She said people who lose benefits often don’t have any source of income to cover the cost of food.

The report showed overall more than 13,000 Kentuckians lost SNAP benefits between 2017 and 2018.

The comment period for enacting these restrictions across the country ends Tuesday, April 2.

Several states are considering similar restrictions for people who qualify for Medicaid.

Kentucky’s plan for Medicaid work requirements was rejected for a second time in court Wednesday.

Jonese Franklin

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