85% drop in food stamp recipients in AL counties where work requirement restarted

From our file named "Duh."  The Alabama Department of Human Resources says 13 counties that reinitiated a work requirement for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program, saw an 85% drop in recipients.

The counties had been exempt from the work requirement due to high levels of unemployment.  But with the economy recovering, the state of Alabama restarted the work requirement on January 1 this year, which resulted in the massive drop in SNAP participants.


During the economic downturn of 2011-2013, several states – including Alabama – waived the SNAP work requirements in response to high unemployment. It was reinstituted for 54 counties on Jan. 1, 2016 and for the remaining 13 on Jan. 1, 2017. As of April 2017, the highest jobless rate among the 13 previously excluded counties was in Wilcox County, which reported a state-high unemployment rate of 11.7 percent, down more than 11 percentage points from the county's jobless rate for the same month of 2011.

Ending the exemption has dramatically cut the number of SNAP recipients in the counties.

As of Jan. 1, 2017, there were 13,663 able-bodied adults without dependents receiving food stamps statewide. That number dropped to 7,483 by May 1, 2017. Among the 13 counties, there were 5,538 adults ages 18-50 without dependents receiving food stamps as of Jan. 1, 2017. That number dropped to 831 – a decline of about 85 percent – by May 1, 2017.

"Based on the trend, the number of (able-bodied adults without dependents) recipients for SNAP benefits is expected to continue to decline statewide and in the formerly 13 exempted counties," according to Alabama DHR spokesperson John Hardy.

Statewide, the number of able-bodied adults receiving food stamps has fallen by almost 35,000 people since Jan. 1, 2016. Each recipient receives about $126 a month in benefits.

Nationwide, there are about 44 million people receiving SNAP benefits at a cost of about $71 billion. The Trump administration has vowed to cut the food stamp rolls over the next decade, including ensuring that able-bodied adults recipients are working.

During the Obama administration, the number of SNAP participants nearly doubled – as did the SNAP budget.  Certainly, the economic downturn was at least partly to blame for that.  But the real culprit in the explosion of SNAP recipients had to do with a radical change in philosophy by the president – a result of his efforts to "transform" America.

As it was originally constituted back in the 1960s, the food stamp program was supposed to help the desperately poor.  Gradually, over the years, eligibility requirements were expanded to help Americans who lived at or below the poverty line.

But President Obama turned the SNAP program into a benefit for the middle class.  Millions of American families who were previously ineligible for the program received benefits when the federal government told states they could relax rules related to income levels and work requirements. 

I have no doubt that some middle-class Americans struggle to put food on the table – especially those who live paycheck to paycheck and find themselves at the end of the month making tough decisions about whether to buy food or some other necessity like medicine.  But the sad fact is, many SNAP recipients are either ignorant of or pay little attention to how they spend SNAP food dollars every month.  Small changes in the way they shop for food as well as what they eat would go a long way to stretching their food budget to where they wouldn't need the benefit or could make do with a lot less.

Do the Alabama numbers tell us something profound about work and the necessity of government benefits?  I have no doubt that they do.  It is human nature to take a government benefit being offered with no strings attached.  Commonsense eligibility requirements for all programs designed to help the poor would no doubt save tens of billions of dollars and, in the process, shrink the size of government.

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