Food Stamps Aren’t Enough for SNAP Beneficiaries

Food Stamps Arent Enough for SNAP Beneficiaries

Shiva Darshan, Staff Writer

The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) prohibited impoverished people from claiming Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits if they did not meet a 20 hour a week work requirement. This portion of Bill Clinton’s welfare reform prevented the able-bodied from obtaining food for an extended period of time without making progress in finding steady work.

The act allowed state governments to waive this cap during times of economic hardship, and most states ended up doing just that during the Great Recession. However, at the beginning of 2016, these waivers will expire in 23 states — by the end of March, 500,000-1,000,000 people will lose their SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. The vast majority of these people are well below the poverty line, but since they are classified as able-bodied citizens, they do not qualify for more assistance.

When the PRWORA was passed, much of the political discourse centered on personal responsibility. The threat of losing unemployment benefits was meant to motivate the recipients to find jobs. Yet the majority of people who will lose their benefits lack job prospects for a variety of reasons, such as lacking basic literacy and math skills. The federal government and many states also recently cut programs to help train low-skilled workers, leaving up to a million people in an impossible situation. Without adequate training to find jobs, we can not expect SNAP beneficiaries to meet the work requirements and maintain their eligibility.

This upcoming deadline for SNAP benefits is just another indignity forced upon people who need public assistance. Myths such as Reagan’sWelfare Queen” still trick the public into believing that people receiving benefits were lazy abusers of public largess. The racist undertones of this rhetoric has worsened the way the public views the African-American community, particularly African-American mothers. These views made it easier to neglect entire neighborhoods and communities under the assumption that such abandonment is somehow deserved.

This discourse also justified laws that made the public assistance programs a difficult maze of demeaning regulations. As political activist and author Barbara Erhenreich wrote about in her book “Nickeled and Dimed,” the process of navigating the welfare system can be so cumbersome and time-intensive that it often feels like a second job. Applying for public assistance is frustrating, and this often discourages people from applying.
Unfortunately, it has been acceptable to demonize low income people for too long, and the real problems of violence, drug addiction, and urban decay that stems from systematic poverty often go ignored. The government is failing in its duty to the people, and such harsh treatment towards the some of the United States’ most vulnerable citizens is morally reprehensible. There needs to be a more compassionate response, else we are essentially resigning ourselves to doing nothing to address the greater problems rooted in our society.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Shiva Darshan at [email protected]