A recent report issued by the Foundation for Government Accountability claims to examine the impact of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements in Florida. In 2016, state lawmakers rolled out the requirements state-wide for the first time since the Great Recession. Under these rules, SNAP recipients in Florida between the ages of 18 and 49 must work, or participate in a work or training program, for at least 80 hours every month. People with disabilities, or those who take care of a child or an incapacitated person, are exempt from the requirement. SNAP refers to those who are not exempt as “able-bodied adults without dependents” or ABAWDs. If ABAWDs in Florida fail to comply with SNAP work requirements without good cause, their entire food assistance is terminated as a work sanction.
There are several major problems with the report’s analysis:
- The report fails to acknowledge that many SNAP recipients who are subject to work requirements already work or are likely to find jobs in the near future and, as a result, their work rates and wages would likely have risen without work requirements. Although the report attributes work rates to the requirements, Floridians receiving SNAP already have strong work histories. In fact, in the Sunshine State, SNAP is a program that supports and fosters work. Fourteen percent of low-wage workers in Florida rely on SNAP to put food on the table. Getting a job, however, does not necessarily mean that low-income workers have full-time jobs, and even if they do, having SNAP is often the difference between eating a meal and going hungry.
- The report fails to consider the hardship on Floridians who were thrown off the SNAP program as a work sanction. The authors praise SNAP work requirements as transforming the lives of struggling Floridians by moving them into the workforce. However, in reality, although the imposition of work requirements on SNAP recipients has dramatically altered the lives of hundreds of thousands of Floridians, the change has been anything but good. The vast majority of ABAWDs who were kicked off SNAP in 2016 did not leave because they found work or no longer need help — they left SNAP because they were forced off as a work sanction.
- The report does not acknowledge the reasons why ABAWDs in the Sunshine State may have more difficulty finding stable, full-time employment in today’s job market. Because of their unique demographics, including race and education levels, ABAWDs have a higher unemployment rate than that of Florida’s general population. Despite their diligent efforts to get jobs, many ABAWDs face difficulties in finding stable, full-time employment that others in the state do not encounter.
Evidence suggests that sanctions are not the reason why SNAP recipients work and that a better economy has more of an impact on low-income employment than do work requirements. Typically, although ABAWDs in Florida may face greater obstacles to employment than others, many already work, at least part-time, or are likely to find jobs in the near future. For these SNAP recipients, work sanctions do nothing other than inflict hardship during already difficult times or in the face of challenges to regaining employment.
Investment in education, training and work supports for Floridians receiving SNAP, not work sanctions, is the key to reducing long-term need for food assistance and fostering success in today’s labor market.