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More than two dozen Republican governors have now pulled their states out of the pandemic-related federal unemployment programs. One of the arguments they’re making is that the benefits are preventing people from going back to work.
Arguments like that have been made against other social safety net programs, too, before the pandemic. They’re why able-bodied adults without dependents are required to work in order to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps.
But a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that those work requirements for nutrition assistance don’t lead to more people working.
That is something Adam Morgan, advocacy coordinator at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, sees all the time — work requirements can do the opposite of getting more people to work.
“Reducing access to nutritious food does nothing to help a person find adequate employment,” he said. “Removing their source of food only makes it harder for people to find consistent, stable employment.”
The researchers found no evidence that people are any more likely to start working when they lose SNAP benefits.
“If the goal is to encourage people to work, then this is not a policy that is working as intended,” said Adam Leive, a professor at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, who worked on the study.
And on top of that, work requirements “are indeed a direct cause of many people leaving SNAP,” said Elena Prager, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and another of the researchers.
“Almost a quarter of people who are on SNAP end up losing their SNAP benefits as a direct result of work requirement implementation,” she said.
Adults who are homeless are the most likely to lose their food assistance, said Mary Zaki at the University of Maryland, who also worked on the study.
“This is a population that obviously has their own barriers to obtaining housing,” she said. “So some of those barriers may also prevent them from joining the workforce.”
Given that, Zaki said taking away food assistance from people who aren’t working just leads to greater food insecurity.
Congress temporarily suspended work requirements for SNAP in March 2020. They’re set to kick back in the month after the federal government lifts the public health emergency.
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