Federal work requirement proposal could end food assistance for thousands in Philly

Pat Loeb
December 20, 2018 - 1:21 pm
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Sen. Bob Casey is promising to fight a new proposal from the Trump administration that would make it harder for some people to get federal food assistance. The proposal unveiled Thursday morning could impact thousands of Philadelphians.

The USDA says it wants to limit the ability of states to waive the requirement that able-bodied adults who receive food assistance, known as SNAP, be employed. The move comes after Congress passed a farm bill without a stricter work requirement, so it's seen as a way to get around that legislation. Casey worked on the bipartisan farm bill and calls the USDA action "bad policy."

"I'm going to oppose this vigorously," he said. "It's policy that should not become law. It does nothing to move the country forward."

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Casey said there are economic benefits for all from SNAP. "Food stamps not only helps the individual, it helps the economy," he said. "Because when you spend a buck on food stamps, you get a lot in return — by some estimates, $1.70. So every dollar spent on food stamps helps all of us."

Sen. Pat Toomey, who favors a work requirement, said he had no comment until he sees more details. Pennsylvania officials are also waiting to see particulars of the proposal, but the state has a waiver for most counties, including Philadelphia. 

In Pennsylvania, where more than 17,000 able-bodied adults receive SNAP benefits, the state waives the work requirement in almost every county, including Philadelphia. A statement from the Department of Human Services calls the proposed changes, "extremely concerning."

"This proposed rule claims to be about helping people towards self-sufficiency but offers no support for workforce development and job training programs that can help people get there. Without these investments, this is nothing but a cut to the nation’s most successful anti-hunger program," the statement reads.

"SNAP helps some of our most low-income individuals and families afford to have enough to eat. Many of these people experience barriers to work such as a lack of family-supporting jobs in their community, transportation access, insufficient education or job training, mental illness and substance use disorders, among others. All people should have the opportunity to work and support their family if they are able, but we must also recognize the barriers that can make achieving self-sufficiency more challenging.

"Reducing a person’s access to food does not get them a job – it can only make that more difficult. We need to invest in programs that give people the tools they need to empower themselves to find and keep a job that allows them to make a living. By doing that, we have a shot at helping people get to self-sufficiency."

More than 17,000 able-bodied Pennsylvanians are getting SNAP. Some likely would lose benefits if the state loses its ability to grant waivers.