The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps—has had work requirements since 1996. That’s when certain adults not raising minor children became subjected to a harsh three-month time limit on food assistance unless they are working or participating in qualifying work activities for at least 20 hours per week. It’s important to note that the law doesn’t require states to provide these jobs or jobs training slots (and the majority of them do not). States are permitted to waive the time limits in areas of high unemployment, and most did so in the years that followed the Great Recession.
Recently there’s been a renewed effort among Republican policymakers to reinstate—and ramp up—SNAP’s work requirements. In 2016, they were in effect in 40 states, 22 of which implemented them for the first time since the Great Recession—even in areas of high unemployment. More than 500,000 adults were expected to lose benefits as a result.
What’s more, the Trump administration has proposed restricting these time-limit waivers to areas with unemployment rates greater than 10 percent—that is, peak unemployment during the Great Recession. Some of the areas that would lose waivers include parts of Appalachia, the Navajo Nation in Arizona, and southern Alaska. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that, under this proposal, fully 1 million unemployed adults without dependents would lose access to SNAP in a given month.