While Food Stamp Rolls Expand Nationally, These States Are Actually Lifting People Out of Poverty

We are called to help each other in times of need, to support our fellow man when times are tough. We are also called to do what we can for ourselves when we are able so that those who need help the most are able to get that help. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — known more commonly as food stamps — is in crisis in America. Spending on the program has quadrupled since 2000. One way to check the growth of the program and help people get back on their feet would be to reinstitute work requirements for all able-bodied recipients.

A recent study by the Foundation for Government Accountability identifies three problems with the SNAP program:

  1. It’s too big. Total enrollment reached a whopping 48 million in 2013, with spending on the program reaching nearly $80 billion.
  2. Poverty is declining while food stamps are expanding. The number of people on food stamps increased 18 percent since 2010, even though the number of Americans in poverty dropped 2 percent over the same period.
  3. Millions of Americans are turning to food stamps rather than jobs. Food stamp enrollment has increased by more than 30 million people since 2000, while just over 4 million Americans were added to the workforce. For every job created, three people were added to the food stamp rolls.

Under the Obama administration, 42 states have waived work requirements for able-bodied adults without children. Two states, Maine and Kansas, have reinstated the work requirements, which has drastically reduced SNAP enrollment in those states.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) reinstated work requirements in October 2014, ending six consecutive years of waivers. To remain on food stamps after three months, residents must work at least 20 hours per week, participate in a work-training program, or give back to the community through volunteer work. According to the FGA report, charities in Maine have seen an increase in volunteerism. The result? Some 9,000 able-bodied adults cycled out of food stamps, reducing total enrollment from 12,000 to 2,680—a decline of about 80 percent. “If you’re on these programs it means you are living in poverty and so the more that we can help incentive people on that pathway to employment and self-sufficiency the better off they’re going to be,” Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told the Associated Press.

Kansas saw similar results after reinstituting work requirments in October 2013. During an typical month when the work waiver was in place, an average of 3,000 to 4,000 people would leave the program. The month after the waiver expired, 15,000 people left the program—and the FGA reports the number of able-bodied adults with out dependents relying on food stamps has decreased steadily every month since.

After reinstating work requirements, both Maine and Kansas have seen thousands of adults reenter the workforce and become self-sufficient

“This is the best way to help those in need,” Kansas governor Sam Brownback said in a statement.

“The primary focus of the bill is to get people back to work,” he said. “Because that’s where the real benefit is. Getting people off public assistance and back into the marketplace with the dignity and far more income there than the pittance that government gives them.”

When President Obama allowed states to waive work requirements, nearly all of them did. Unsurprisingly, food stamp enrollment exploded as people chose entitlements over earning. Food stamps were never meant to be a permanent way of life. More states would do well to help people get back on their feet rather than extend their dependency on government largesse. It frees up resources so that those who truly need help are able to get it.

Amelia Hamilton is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter@ameliahammy.