By Jake Grovum, Stateline.org
WASHINGTON — A fresh round of food stamp cuts at the state level are underway, on top of federal food stamp reductions that hit millions of Americans twice since November. In some states, policymakers have imposed additional cuts that jeopardize benefits for hundreds of thousands.
The impact of the reductions is just beginning to take hold, or soon will.
“They’re getting cut off and seeking help,” said Debi Kreutzman of the Kansas Food Bank, which is dealing with changes that could affect 20,000 Kansans. “We’re starting to see that come into play now, and I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse.”
The state cuts target a relatively small portion of the food stamp population: low-income able-bodied adults, without children, 18 to 50 years old — estimated to be about 10 percent of the more than 47 million in the program. In some states, recipients are losing benefits because of reinstated work requirements as a condition of qualifying for food stamps.
These cuts come on top of an across-the-board 5 percent reduction of benefits to all food stamp recipients’ benefits last November. As part of the farm bill earlier this year, Congress also closed a loophole and cut benefits for 850,000 households, although many states affected are moving to block the cuts for now.
The federal food stamp program (formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) limits how long low-income childless, able-bodied adults can receive food stamps to three months in a three-year period, unless they are working or participating in a training or workfare program for at least 20 hours a week. Other food stamp recipients face less stringent work requirements, and there are exemptions for those with children or other caregivers.
The 2009 stimulus bill suspended these requirements through 2010, and after that states were allowed to waive them if they met certain conditions based on their economies and job markets. Most every state has waived the requirements since 2011.
In recent years, though, some states — many controlled by Republicans — began to rethink the waivers, which were part of the 1996 welfare reforms and designed to give states flexibility in times of high unemployment. With the start of the new federal fiscal year last October, eight went back to enforcing the requirements, and 10 waived them only in part of their state or for part of this year. The changes are just beginning to be felt in some of those states.
In Delaware, officials insist a waiver is unnecessary because the state’s work-training and placement program has been able to manage the growing ranks of the jobless. But the Food Bank of Delaware said some recipients have hit the three-month cutoff unable to find work. The state might soon reconsider the requirements.
“The case load is growing pretty dramatically,” said Elaine Archangelo, director of the Division of Social Services for Delaware. “So we have been considering if there are areas where we could, should request a waiver.”
Of states without waivers, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming were no longer eligible, because their economies and job markets had improved, as measured by the eight factors considered by the federal government when determining waiver eligibility. Others, such as Delaware, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia, are going without them despite being eligible for at least partial waivers.
Ohio, Colorado, New York, Texas and Wisconsin are all waiving the work requirements for only part of the year or in certain areas, even though they were eligible for full coverage. Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont were eligible only for partial waivers.
Ohio chose to go without a waiver for most of the state. Only 16 out of 88 counties are exempt — mainly rural, Appalachian regions where the average unemployment rate was 10.2 percent or higher in 2011 through 2012. The situation left food banks and food stamp outreach workers in Ohio scrambling, facing a shortage of jobs and training opportunities.