SNAP Benefits Reduced When Work Requirements Rise

SNAP Benefits Reduced When Work Requirements Rise

woman grocery shoppingExpanding work requirements for those participating in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would hurt millions of people already in the workforce, especially those with low levels of education, Northwestern University labor economist Diane Shanzenbach wrote in Brookings.

Schanzenbach and coauthor Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, argue that proposed legislation targeting the supplemental food program underestimates the number of people who might lose or obtain SNAP benefits for which they are currently eligible due to the work requirements.

Under the plan proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives, certain SNAP recipients who fail to work or participate in training more than an average of 20 hours a week in the month they receive food assistance would lose benefits.

“Due to volatility in the labor market, a large number of individuals may be sanctioned due to fluctuations in hours worked or short spells of unemployment,” they wrote.

In fact, research by Schanzenbach and Bauer finds that over the course of 16 months, one in five adults ages 18 to 59 without a child under the age of 6 at home switches between working more than 20 hours per week and a different employment status: less than 20 hours per week, seeking employment, or being out of the labor force.

“Given the nature of exemptions and who would qualify, it is likely that those who would be most affected by the punitive nature of the work requirements are those who are working in the volatile low-wage labor market, not those whom we are seeking to draw in from the sidelines,” they wrote.

“The vast majority of those who transition between more than 20 hours a week and a different employment status are working every month but with varying hours, have a work-related reason, or are a student for part of the year.

Instituting monthly work requirements for SNAP recipients – with frequent exposure to employment verification processes and the attendant likelihood of administrative error – will impose sanctions on a large share of workers because they experience normal labor market fluctuations.”

Schanzenbach, a labor economist at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP), studies the effects of policies aimed at alleviating child poverty. She is director of the Institute for Policy Research, the Margaret Walker Alexander Professor in SESP Social Policy and former director of the Hamilton Project.

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By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 8/21/18