The Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program is intended to be a supplemental food pantry, but a growing number of clients here and at pantries around the state have little else to rely on because of a change in state policy this year. That change is part of an adjustment being made by states that will strip food stamp benefits from a million childless, able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on low-income Americans.
At its core is a basic question: As the economy improves, should states continue waivers that were enacted during the recession to allow healthy adults who are not working to get food stamps longer than the law’s time limit? Maine is one of the states that say no.
Last year, the administration of Gov. Paul R. LePage, a Republican, decided to reimpose a three-month limit (out of every three-year period) on food stamps for a group often known as Abawds — able-bodied adults without minor dependents — unless they work 20 hours per week, take state job-training courses or volunteer for about six hours per week. Maine, like other states, makes some exceptions.
“You’ve got to incentivize employment, create goals and create time limits on these welfare programs,” said Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of health and human services in Maine. She said the measure was in line with Mr. LePage’s efforts to reform welfare.
The number of Abawds receiving food stamps in Maine has dropped nearly 80 percent since the rule kicked in, to 2,530 from about 12,000. This time limit is an old one, written into the 1996 federal welfare law. But, during the recession, most states took advantage of a provision that allows them to waive it when unemployment is persistently high, which meant poor adults could stay on the program regardless of their work status.
Maine is one of eight states that qualified for waivers in 2015 but decided to use them only in parts of the state or not at all. And, as the economy improves, more states will cease to qualify for the waivers, even if they want them. The Agriculture Department estimates that 23 states will cease to qualify for statewide waivers in the 2016 fiscal year.
“It means life gets tougher for those childless adults who face barriers already getting back into work,” said Ed Bolen, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
He said those adults tended to have limited education and faced a postrecession labor market in which many people who want to work still cannot find jobs. According to the federal Agriculture Department, the households of able-bodied adults receiving food stamps in 2013 had average gross incomes of $308 per month — or less than 30 percent of the federal poverty guideline.
The re-emergence of the work requirements has stoked discontent among advocates for the poor and hungry who say the law is unfair because states are not required to offer food stamp recipients a work assignment before cutting them off, and because searching for a job does not necessarily count. The Agriculture Department makes money available to states willing to pledge work assignments to food stamp recipients, but many states do not take advantage of it. Recently the department announced that it had provided $200 million to 10 states for pilot programs that would help people find jobs and move them off food stamps.
“If the job situation in the area is a really a tough situation, this is an incredibly harsh provision,” said Ellen Vollinger, the legal and food stamp director for the Food Research and Action Center. “There’s going to be harm, and it’s going to show up in greater hunger, probably in greater instances of health problems and could show up in greater instances of homelessness.”
Around the country, food pantry directors are girding for an influx of hungry adults as the work requirement re-emerges. In Wisconsin, the time limit kicked in statewide on April 1, and the independent Legislative Fiscal Bureau there has estimated that 31,000 people could lose their food stamps.
“We’re going to run out of food,” said Sherrie Tussler, the executive director of the Hunger Task Force Milwaukee. “It’s going to cause wide-scale hunger here in Milwaukee, and we’re in trouble.”
The staff at the food pantry in Brunswick estimated that 10 clients a week have been losing their food stamps to this provision. It expects that it will see an increase in visits and the amount of food it will need to provide.
Jackie Dulack, 38, picked up bread and pork at the Brunswick pantry, and had no plan for when the food ran out. Ms. Dulack, who said she was unemployed and had no income, received a letter from the state last fall saying she would lose her food stamps if she did not meet the work requirement.
She said that her food stamps had since been cut off and that the general assistance office had told her that she would need to be working to get them back. (The State Department of Health and Human Services would not confirm her benefit status, citing privacy law.)
Ms. Dulack is training to become a personal care aide, but her courses do not count toward the job-training requirement.
“How,” she wondered, “do you expect people to live and feed themselves and survive with nothing?”
Officials have emphasized that people can meet the work requirement by volunteering about six hours a week, and that is happening here: Warren Bailey, 40, has been unable to find work in towing or fast food and so has signed up as a pantry volunteer. But there is concern in the state that there is not enough volunteering or job-training capacity for food stamp recipients who cannot find jobs, especially in rural parts.
“If you’re not lucky like me and found this place, the food pantry, I don’t even know where else I would go,” Mr. Bailey said.
In Kansas, the number of childless, able-bodied adults receiving food stamps dropped by 15,000 in the month after the waiver expired in December 2013, compared with the roughly 3,000 to 4,000 people who had been leaving the program monthly before the change, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
In some states, advocates have sounded the alarm about the administration of the change. After Minnesota became ineligible for a statewide waiver at the end of 2013, Colleen Moriarty of Hunger Solutions was alarmed, she said, when more than twice as many adults as predicted lost food stamps. And legal advocates in Ohio filed a civil rights complaint after the state declined the waiver for 2014 for all but 16 rural counties, noting that cities with large populations of poor minority residents were not in counties that received the waiver.
Boy are the libtards mad now! The horror of making able bodied persons actually do a minute bit of work for something they used to get for free at taxpayer expense. The enrollments for snap have dropped dramatically especially in Maine.