How ‘tough love’ is shrinking the number of Food Stamp recipients


Following a rise in enrollment in the food stamp program during the Obama administration, the number of enrollees has declined precipitously in states that have recently restored work requirements for beneficiaries of the program.

The 2009 economic stimulus allowed states to waive work requirements for able-bodied adults and enrollment in the food stamp program ballooned to record levels—peaking at nearly 48 million in 2013.

That number has declined in recent years, with some states making an aggressive push to remove from the program recipients who are capable of working.

In 2017, Alabama began requiring able-bodied adults without children in 13 counties to secure a job or participate in work training in order to continue to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Between Jan. 1 and the beginning of May, the number of such recipients declined from 5,538 to 831—an 85 percent reduction.

Georgia implemented similar changes in select counties. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation reported that after the first three months, the number of able-bodied adults receiving benefits in three participating counties dropped 58 percent.

During a recent Walk & Talk, Dennis Michael Lynch called these types of measures, tough love. “If more states would implement tough love style measures that force people to get off their buttocks, dependency would scale down.  There are jobs out there, people just need an incentive to work.  Take away the free stuff and people will suddenly find the incentive.”

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in 21 additional counties that restored the work requirement, there was a 62 percent decline in SNAP participants.

“Work requirements have been enormously successful at reducing the number of people on food stamps. And while they made sense in the early part of the recession when unemployment was higher, that is no longer the case,” said Robert Doar, a fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

In October 2014, Republican Gov. Paul LePage of Maine announced that able-bodied adults must find a job, spend 20 hours per week in a work program, or perform community service for six hours a week in order to receive food stamp benefits.

Maine reported that participation declined 14.5 percent from 235,771 in January 2014 to 201,557 in January 2015.

If the Maine model was implemented nationwide, it could save taxpayers over $8.4 billion per year, according to Robert Rector, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have introduced legislation to require able-bodied adults without children to participate in “work activation” initiatives in order to receive benefits. The bill also imposes time limits on SNAP participation.

“We should be incentivizing work, not providing a disincentive to find a job, which is a good thing both for the taxpayer as well as for the beneficiary,” Jordan said.

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