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Scott Walker Boots 15,000 People Off Food Stamps In Three Months

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

AlanPyke_108x108In just three months, 15,000 people in Wisconsin have already lost food stamps thanks to Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) decision to enforce full work requirements for the program in Milwaukee despite economic conditions dire enough to trigger a federal reprieve.

Walker’s administration made the policy change in April. Since then, anyone deemed to be an able-bodied adult with no dependents to care for must prove they are working or participating in job training programs for at least 20 hours per week. Failing to meet that standard means losing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits after three months.

The 15,000 bumped from the rolls from May to July is only half the number the state predicts will ultimately lose food stamps because of the move.

The 20-hour weekly work requirement is typically waived when economic conditions are too tight. Since making people hungrier doesn’t create jobs where none exist, the federal government alerts states each year to the areas within their borders where the work rules can be suspended. Other linkages between SNAP enrollment and a person’s willingness to work a job if offered one remain in place, but the hard-and-fast hourly rule is waived.

Unless a governor decides not to heed the federal economists who study local labor markets, as Walker did here and numerous other state leaders – most Republican – have done in the past few years. In Wisconsin, about 60,000 of the state’s nearly 800,000 SNAP recipients were expected to be subject to the new rules.

There are 14 counties in Wisconsin where the labor market is too weak for the federal government to enforce the requirements. Walker declined to except those counties when his administration reinstated the stiffer rules, leaving food stamps recipients to contend with work rules in local economies where work is too hard to find.

The 14 counties contain roughly a quarter of the state’s 5.8 million overall population, but more than half of Wisconsin’s non-white population. Mostly that’s because three of the state’s most ethnically diverse population centers – Milwaukee, Racine, and Beloit – all qualify as “Labor Surplus Areas” for fiscal year 2016. The additional burdens of Walker’s food stamps decision are therefore falling on about one in four of his citizens, but one of every two people of color in his state.

Sherrie Tussler heads the Hunger Task Force, a Milwaukee group that distributes food donations to food banks and shelters. Walker’s move “will bankrupt our food banks” as impoverished people lose access to a modest food stipend, Tussler told the Wisconsin State Journal.

There is supposed to be an escape valve for the pressure on anti-hunger networks that states create by imposing work rules in places where federal bean-counters believe they are untenable. Participation in a job training program can stand in for payroll employment to fulfill the requirement.

But that valve often fails to rescue people who search for jobs that don’t exist. Few states actually have sufficient slots available in job training programs to satisfy the demand for those slots from people who can’t find work, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Beneficiaries who are denied entry into a program that’s over capacity still lose their benefits when the three-month clock runs out.

In Wisconsin, unemployed food stamps recipients who don’t have a disability or a dependent are automatically enrolled in the state’s SNAP Employment and Training program. But getting SNAP E&T programs right is hard and expensive, and true success at launching people toward self-sufficiency is rare.

In Milwaukee County, only one in every 14 childless able-bodied adults who’s enrolled in the state training system has actually found a job through it. The impact of Walker’s move there “will result in wide scale shortages in Milwaukee [food banks],” Tussler wrote to the governor in October.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on December 1, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

USDA Does Not Have The Cash To Keep Food Stamps Running If The Government Shuts Down

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

AlanPyke_108x108Tens of millions of vulnerable Americans would lose their food stamps benefits if Republicans bent on defunding Planned Parenthood force the second government shutdown of the Obama era next week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) warned on Tuesday.

Unlike the 2013 shutdown when cash reserves allowed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to be disbursed as normal, “USDA will not have the funding necessary for SNAP benefits in October and will be forced to stop providing benefits within the first several days of October,” a spokeswoman told the Associated Press. The agency notified state SNAP administrators on Friday that they should not begin the process of doling out October’s food stamps dollars this week as they normally would.

Without a deal, funding for normal government operations will run out at the end of September. In response to the news that a shutdown would cut off food stamps to as many as 45 million people, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) issued a statement saying the way to avoid a shutdown is for Democrats to get on board with cutting off federal funding for women’s healthcare. “The best way to ensure SNAP recipients receive needed support is to vote for the [continuing resolution],” Roberts told the Huffington Post. “I’m prepared to do so, and if members are worried about SNAP funding, they should too.”

The funding measure Roberts referenced would zero out federal funds to Planned Parenthood, the national women’s health organization that’s been smeared by pro-life activists as improperly profiting off the sale of aborted fetal tissue. Many of Roberts’ House colleagues have pledged to shut down the government if the group doesn’t have its funding cut off. State lawmakers in some parts of the country have already moved to restrict the group’s ability to provide a wide range of health services to low-income women who depend on Planned Parenthood clinics. In a quarter of all the counties where the group has a presence, the clinics are the only source of affordable contraceptive services for women of little means.

The 2013 government shutdown caused disruptions in a variety of federal services including thejob training programs that unemployed people rely on to fulfill the eligibility requirements of SNAP. But the money for food itself was able to continue flowing because the USDA had sufficient cash in reserve to put the appropriate funds on peoples’ cards. That isn’t the case this time, lawmakers briefed by the agency say.

Cutting off SNAP would mean shooting the U.S. economy in the foot. The benefits more than pay for themselves, generating close to two dollars of economic activity for every dollar of benefits doled out by the USDA. Plugging up the flow of money from the federal government to low-income families to the grocery stores where they shop would have ripple effects on businesses and on tax revenue for public coffers.

The timing of the possible shutdown would exacerbate that natural chain of harmful knock-on effects. Most SNAP beneficiaries have already spent down their full monthly benefit by about midway through any given month. That cycle puts a crunch on grocery stores as well, distorting the hours they can sensibly schedule workers to be in the store and shifting how they stock their shelves. The USDA’s early warning about SNAP being cut off may have some political ramifications in the Congressional tussle over government funding, but it also serves as a more practical heads-up to the economic ecosystem surrounding the food stamps program.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on September 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

 

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