The U.S. House has voted 217-210 to cut nearly 4 billion dollars a year from the food stamp, or SNAP, program that is used by more than 1 in 7 Americans in the wake of the Great Recession.
The bill allows states to put broad new work requirements in place and to test applicants for drugs. It also ends government waivers that have allowed able-bodied adults without dependents to receive benefits indefinitely. In Ohio, work requirements will go into effect on October 1st for 134 thousand recipients. Lewis Wallace of member station WYSO in Yellow Springs reports.
It’s early on a Tuesday, and a young couple wanders out of the Clark County job center in Springfield.
MC: My name is Megan Creech.
BM: Brian Mason.
Megan was called in for an appointment about SNAP work requirements...but she doesn’t have a car, so Brian was her ride.
To keep getting food stamps she’ll have to find 20 hours a week of work, or participate in a job training program.
Megan: I’m actually hoping to get out of it because I actually take care of my grandmother who has cancer, and in turn for taking care of her she provides me housing.
If she doesn’t start work or training she could lose food assistance after three months, and she doesn’t really know what she’ll do.
Megan: If I have to withdraw from food stamps, I’m gonna try doing online courses or something.
This work requirement isn’t new--it’s just been on hold in Ohio since the Recession.
And lots of folks are exempt from work requirements anyhow—like people with young children, and people with disabilities.
So the change on October 1 will affect able-bodied, childless adults.
And Ben Johnson with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says 16 of the hardest-hit counties will still have the requirement waived.
BJ: We wanted to be cognizant of parts of the state where the economy has not recovered as quickly, but we also want to acknowledge that in parts of the state the economy is recovering.
In those other 72 counties, tens of thousands risk losing assistance--although Johnson says county job programs should fill in the gaps.
BJ: So long as people enroll in and complete the necessary job training and work assistance, there’s no reason that anyone has to lose their food assistance benefit.
Down at Greene County Job and Family Services, director Beth Rubin says the county can handle the immediate job training needs.
She’s more concerned about the bigger picture, what she calls a “new normal” since the Recession.
BR: We have leveled off in terms of not seeing a huge influx of new individuals coming through the doors as they once were, but we’re continuing to serve high numbers of people, and our resources have remained flat for quite some time.
What Rubin is seeing reflects a larger trend: jobs are gradually coming back, but wages are down...and the number of people on SNAP has more than doubled in ten years.
Most recipients are either children, elderly people, or working parents.
Brian Mason and Megan Creech aren’t that hopeful about what’s next.
Brian: I’d be surprised if they actually exempt her because of her grandma, so.
Megan: That’s what I’m worried about. That they won’t. I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if I wound up in a homeless shelter over it.
Before they head back to Brian’s car to drive home, Megan adds that Springfield just isn’t a very big place.
If she does have to leave her Grandma’s, she’s not sure where she would go...or how she would get there.