Federal Food Stamp Fix Good Fit for Pa.

Jobs and money form the foundation of many a New Year’s resolution. Now, due to proposed federal SNAP (food stamp) changes, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians could experience a brighter 2019 on both fronts.

Shortly before Christmas, the United States Department of Agriculture proposed regulatory changes designed to promote work among the millions of healthy adults on SNAP who have no young children. In Pennsylvania, nearly 300,000 of these adults—roughly 75 percent—are not working.

Requiring these individuals to re-enter the workforce would boost their standard of living and the state’s economy.

State agencies like the Department of Human Services (DHS) can submit waivers to exempt counties or municipalities from SNAP work requirements. The proposed changes would simplify waiver criteria, reducing bureaucracy, and align the waiver policies with economic conditions.  

Why is this important? Statewide, SNAP enrollment remains historically high despite a growing economy, low unemployment, and shortages in mid-skilled workers. It’s nonsensical for state bureaucrats to waive work requirements with unemployment rates below 5 percent, which many economists consider full employment. Under the new rules, no county with unemployment below 7 percent could be exempt from work requirements.

The rules also lay out standards to guard against “gerrymandering” state maps to exempt as many counties and municipalities as possible. For example, in 2018, state bureaucrats combined York Township and Springettsbury Township, with respective unemployment rates of 4.17 and 4.77 percent, with the City of York’s 8.53 percent unemployment rate to exempt all three municipalities from work requirements.

Today, an astounding 59 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are completely exempt from SNAP work requirements.


Infographic: Food Stamp Work Waivers

After efforts to strengthen work requirements in Harrisburg and via the farm bill in Washington D.C. stalled, this is an encouraging development. Pennsylvania Congressman Glenn Thompson noted:

I am pleased to see USDA following the good policy put forth in the House farm bill to engage adults who are physically able to join the American workforce, especially at a time where our economy is growing . . . This proposed rule will give so many Americans a new lease on life and the ability to climb the rungs on the ladder of opportunity.

The public is on board too. Two-thirds of Pennsylvanians support work requirements for welfare programs like Medicaid, and 80 percent of Americans support work requirements for parents using SNAP.

Unsurprisingly, Pennsylvania’s DHS is opposed.

The federal government’s proposed changes to SNAP are extremely concerning. This proposed rule claims to be about helping people towards self-sufficiency but offers no support for workforce development and job training programs that can help people get there.

Pennsylvania already spends millions of taxpayer dollars on job training and workforce development each year. In fact, last year Gov. Wolf secured another $30 million for apprenticeships and workforce training. Experiences in other states show the best way to get healthy adults back to work is to tie their benefits to work requirements.

Returning Pennsylvanians to the workforce is about more than a paycheck, it’s about giving individuals purpose, dignity, and the resources to live independently.

Similarly, some state are prioritizing work with their Medicaid programs this year.

Shortly before Christmas, the federal Department of Health and Human Services approved Michigan and Maine’s work requirement requests. This means, beginning in 2020, about 500,000 healthy adult Michiganders will be required to work or volunteer 80 hours a month to maintain their Medicaid benefits, the same standard for SNAP. Indiana and Kentucky are set to implement their own Medicaid work requirement programs in 2019.

Whether it is SNAP or Medicaid, government support systems should encourage employment for healthy Pennsylvanians at every opportunity.