The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP – is our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program. SNAP benefits, which are funded entirely by the federal government, help more than 400,000 Louisiana households pay for their groceries and afford a basic diet each month. The vast majority of participants are children, seniors and people with disabilities. The program also provides temporary assistance to some working-age adults during periods of unemployment or underemployment. Federal law limits able-bodied adults without dependents to three months of SNAP assistance in a 3-year period. But states can apply to waive that federal time limit – either for the whole state or in certain areas with sustained high levels of unemployment.
Why does Louisiana have a federal waiver to the SNAP 3-month time limit?
- States can only qualify for a federal waiver to the three-month time limit if the unemployment rate in the state substantially higher than the national average over a 24-month period.
- Since 1998, every Louisiana governor has applied for a waiver to the three-month time limit.
- During times of relative economic prosperity, the state has gone to a “partial waiver,” where SNAP recipients in certain parts of the state, where unemployment is low, are again subject to the time limit.
What would House Bill 128 do?
- Remove authority from the executive branch to apply for a federal waiver to the three-month time limit for some people receiving SNAP benefits.
- Allow the Legislature to prematurely end the state’s federal waiver to the time limit
- If Louisiana did not apply for the federal waiver, able-bodied adults in the state would lose their food assistance after three months, if they could not meet a 20-hour per week work requirement.
Why is House Bill 128 problematic?
- States can shift between having a full, partial or no waiver during a given year, based on changing economic conditions in the state; therefore, it is critical for the state to have flexibility to change its SNAP waiver status. For example, an economic downturn or natural disaster could drive up unemployment for an extended period of time.
- The waiver helps protect the increasing number of workers who find themselves in low-wage jobs with inconsistent hours, making it difficult to continuously meet a 20-hour per week work requirement.
- Some areas of Louisiana still have unemployment rates twice the national average. It does not make sense for the Legislature to consider imposing a time limit on food assistance when there is a documented lack of jobs and a temporary waiver of the time limit is available.
- If the Legislature were to forgo the waiver and reinstate the time limit, it would hurt vulnerable people including veterans, homeless people, part-time workers and underemployed workers who want to work.
How does the state help SNAP recipients connect with work?
- Able-bodied adults without dependents are already required to work 20 hours per week or participate in work training programs at the LWC Business and Career Solutions Center in their parish.
- Able-bodied adults with dependents are required to participate in various job search and training activities provided by the Louisiana Workforce Commission. The types of LWC services available depends on the parish.
SNAP benefits are paid for entirely by the federal government, so reducing the number of people eligible for SNAP by reinstating the three-month time limit would not save the state any money. Instead, it would increase the number of hungry people in Louisiana, while taking federal dollars away from local food retailers and increasing strain on local food banks and pantries.
by Jeanie Donovan