Feds Restore Foodstamp Rules: Providing a Pathway to Independence

Pennsylvanians are experiencing the lowest unemployment rates on record and wages are rising, including wages at the lower end of the pay scale. Across the country 16 states have restored work expectations for healthy adults without kids in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps). And now, with one much-needed regulatory change, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is encouraging tens of thousands here in Pennsylvania, to choose work, education, and independence.

On Wednesday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the finalization of a new SNAP rule that allows adults to maintain their benefits as long as they work or go to school part time within three months of receiving benefits starting April 1, 2020.[1]

This is a dramatic shift from the status quo in Pennsylvanian. Over time, bureaucrats have exploited the use of waivers that have discourage millions of Americans from working despite rising wages, record low unemployment, and shortages in mid-skilled workers.

More Pennsylvania Workers and Higher Incomes

Our 2017 study estimated ending work waivers could add between 80,000 and 100,000 able-bodied adults to Pennsylvania’s workforce. But even better than that, those people would start earning between $175 million and $210 million in higher wages, which means fewer of them would be stuck on the food stamp rolls in Pennsylvania.[2]

Instead of prioritizing employment and training, state bureaucrats have systematically expanded work requirement waivers with goal of increasing enrollment and dependency. They pushed the number of exempted counties up from 42 to 63, while our unemployment rate ticked down from 5.2 to a record low of 3.8 (it currently stands at 4.2).

According to USDA figures and analysis from the Foundation for Government Accountability, more than 300,000 Pennsylvanians—roughly 75 percent of those on STAMP—are not working.[3]

Infographic: Food Stamp Work Waivers


Work Requirements Have a Track Record of Reducing Poverty

Results from states that have SNAP work requirements in place demonstrate how the under- and unemployed boost their income and regain a sense of control over their economic lives.

In Kansas, about 40% of former SNAP recipients found work in three months and increased their income by 127 percent.[4]

In Florida, enrollment among able-bodied adults declined by 94% and research shows they are moving into higher paying jobs and spending less time on SNAP, ensuring their skills and job experience do not atrophy.[5]

An End to Waiver Gerrymandering

Under the new rules, no county or municipality with unemployment below 6 percent could be exempt from work requirements. This prevents the oddity of counties securing an exemption despite a growing economy. The rule changes also limit waiver gerrymandering or the practice of combining low and high unemployment areas to maximize the geographic reach of work requirement waivers.

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. 

Pennsylvania lawmakers have been seeking a similar rule change for years. HB 435, proposed by Rep. Mike Tobash, was first introduced last session and prohibits work waivers developed by the state Department of Human Services.

Work Requirements are Popular

The idea of work rather than unending dependence has strong bi-partisan support. In fact, a 2018 poll found Two-thirds of Pennsylvanians support work requirements for welfare programs like Medicaid, and 80 percent of Americans support work requirements for parents using SNAP.

Experiences in other states shows the best way to get healthy adults back to work is to tie their benefits to employment and education. But this is about more than how many people are working. Encouraging our neighbors and fellow citizens to rejoin the workforce is about giving them the opportunity to find the purpose, prosperity, and confidence that enables a life of dignity and independence. This must be the mission of all of our state’s assistance programs.




[1] Final Rule: SNAP Requirements for Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents, December 5, 2019, https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/fr-120419

[2] Sam Adolphsen, Elizabeth Stelle, “Restoring the Dignity of Work,” Commonwealth Foundation, October 2017, https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/restoring-the-dignity-of-work

[3] Jonathan Bain, et. Al, “Work Requirement Waivers Gone Wild: How States are Still Fostering Dependency,” Foundation for Government Accountability, April 2019, https://thefga.org/research/work-requirement-waivers-gone-wild/

[4] Jonathan Ingram, Nicolas Horton, “The Power of Work: How Kansas’ Welfare Reforms are Lifting Americans out of Poverty,” Foundation for Government Accountability, February 2016, https://thefga.org/research/report-the-power-of-work-how-kansas-welfare-reform-is-lifting-americans-out-of-poverty/

[5] Jonathan Ingram, Nicolas Horton, “Common Sense Welfare Reform has Transformed Floridians Lives,” Foundation for Government Accountability, March 2019, https://thefga.org/research/commonsense-welfare-reform-has-transformed-floridians-lives/