The U.S. Congress is considering proposals that would make food assistance more difficult to access, and could take food off the tables of 131,000 Missourians and their families. These punitive policies, including harsh work requirements, would cost Missouri millions, and put families at risk of losing access to nutritional food.
Across the state, far too many Missourians are struggling to put food on the table. Hunger has increased dramatically in Missouri over the past decade, faster than in any other state in the nation.1 In 2016, nearly 500,000 Missourians lived in households experiencing hunger.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as Food Stamps, is our nation’s most effective tool to combat this need.
Though a modest benefit, the SNAP program is very effective at improving nutrition, resulting in improved health outcomes and lower health care costs, particularly for children.5
SNAP is authorized through the Farm Bill, which is due to be reauthorized.
Unfortunately, the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill imposes harsher work requirements that fail to account for the realities of Missourians who utilize SNAP, and would do little to help families become economically independent.
The limited exemptions included in the bill, will not protect families with children, seniors and Missourians with a disability from the harmful impacts of lost benefits.
Under the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill proposal:
- Adults age 18-59 who are not disabled or raising a child under age 6 would be required to prove they have worked at least 20 hours per week.
- If the individuals fail to meet the new requirements, they would face a “sanction” resulting in the loss of their SNAP assistance for a full 12 months.
- Missouri would be required to offer job training and education services which would cost the state 15 times the estimated $17.8 million in federal dollars Missouri would receive to pay for those services.
At the same time the proposal would waste taxpayer dollars on poorly-designed, under-funded employment services instead of providing robust education and training programs.
Federal funding provided would largely be spent on a system to track employment and training hours and would provide little support beyond the most basic services such as access to computers, copiers, or other job search materials.
The cost of any additional services (such as training tied to in demand occupations or any individualized services) would be shouldered entirely by the state.
The vast majority of SNAP participants live with children, seniors, or persons with disability. While participants in these categories would be exempt from work requirements, a loss in benefits by a family member who is not exempt would cut the entire households’ food budget. Alternately, if the household is compliant, work requirements could result in the loss of a primary caregiver.
Of Missouri’s SNAP families with children, nearly half are in households that would not be exempt from work requirements.
Parents with only school age children (age 6 and older) would be subject to strict work requirements. These families would face increased challenges and costs associated with addressing child care needs, particularly during school holidays and the summer.
Most SNAP households that can work, do work
- 56% of Missouri families that utilize SNAP include at least one member who has worked in the past year
- An additional 33% of households contain no healthy working age adults.
Unfortunately, many of these workers are in low wage occupations with irregular schedules that provide few opportunities for paid leave. These workers utilize SNAP to supplement low pay or rely on SNAP during short periods of joblessness often related to temporary health issues, caregiving responsibilities, or the seasonal nature of their work.
Harsh work requirements would cut benefits to working households whose hours temporarily fall below 20 hours per week or who are forced to leave work due to illness or to care for an aging parent or sick child.
Older Workers Face Obstacles to Employment But Are Not Exempt
Over 1 in 4 SNAP households contain at least one member who is over age 50, but under age 60 (at which point recipients are exempt from work requirements). For the first time, SNAP participants in this age group would be subject to strict work requirements. Over 100,000 Missourians between ages 50-59 live in SNAP households and many experience substantial barriers to employment including gaps in education and skills or age discrimination by employers. Once unemployed over half of workers 50+ remain unemployed for at least 27 weeks, a rate substantially higher than among younger workers.