This month, 5,000 Georgians lost their food stamp benefits after the state made changes to the program eligibility in three counties — Cobb, Hall and Gwinnett.
Able-bodied adults without children must now meet work requirements, long hailed by proponents as a way to incentivize finding paid work.
“We have to find a way to motivate them,” State Rep. David Clark (R – Buford) told the AJC.
“This is going to make people step up and look for a job,” Clark said.
Let’s put food insecurity in perspective.
Georgia has 1.9 million people that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That’s nearly one in five Georgians. One in five.
But this figure underestimates the number of Georgians actually facing food insecurity — the USDA measure of access to adequate and nutritious food. Nationally, Feeding America reports that only 61% of food insecure households participate in SNAP or other federal food assistance programs. This means that 39% of food insecure households aren’t able to access or use these safety net programs.
Threatening a family’s food security — as part of a carrot/stick model for changing behaviors — is not the best way to address the underlying causes that fuel chronic food insecurity and poverty in our communities.
Food insecurity doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. Folks are living at the intersection of homelessness, intimate partner violence and incarceration. They are managing the anxiety and depression that often coincide with survival at the margins. All of which make finding, getting and keeping a job that much harder, and food security that much more important.
In this context, what does it even mean to suggest someone is merely unmotivated, and removing a marginal safety net is a good tool to address unemployment?
Clark has indicated that he is interested in proposing legislation to expand the work requirements for able-bodied adults without children to other counties, but, unfortunately, this would merely be reviving an old policy practice that was suspended during the Great Recession.
From the AJC:
Work requirements on receiving food stamps are not new to Georgia. The state is re-instituting federal regulations adopted as part of welfare reform in 1996. The measures had been in place in 84 counties as late as 2008. They were suspended during the Great Recession.
The initiative is also spreading nationally as the economy recovers. Some 23 state are bringing back the time limits this year, for a total of about 40 states that are using them. Gwinnett, Cobb and Hall counties were selected in Georgia because they have low unemployment in the state.
More folks will lose their food stamps if the revised work requirements in Cobb, Hall and Gwinnett Counties are expanded to other parts of Georgia. It’s hard to imagine that the policy change will provide any positive impact for Georgia families.