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Louisiana lawmaker proposes SNAP benefit cuts to fill labor shortages

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Louisiana Illuminator
A Louisiana lawmaker has introduced a bill that could limit federal SNAP food assistance for certain people without jobs in an effort to curtail the state’s labor shortage. (WES MULLER/LOUISIANA ILLUMINATOR)

This story was originally published by Louisiana Illuminator. The story can also be found here.

A Louisiana lawmaker has introduced a bill that could limit free food assistance for certain people without jobs in an effort to curtail the state’s labor shortage.

Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, has filed House Bill 396, which would tighten work requirements for some Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. SNAP is a federal benefit available to low-income families. The money comes on a debit card that can be used only on certain grocery items.

Federal regulations limit the duration of SNAP benefits to childless abled-bodied adults to three months. However, for more than 20 years, Louisiana’s persistent poverty rate has entitled it to a waiver for that three-month limit, allowing adults to receive benefits indefinitely so long as they meet low-income criteria.

Amedee’s bill would no longer allow the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services to apply directly to the federal government for the time-limit waiver. Instead, the agency would have to first ask the Legislature.

“It is the policy of this state to encourage self-sufficiency so that Louisianians may reduce dependence on public benefits to meet basic needs and become economically self-reliant,” the bill reads.

In a phone interview Monday, Amedee said her legislation would hopefully lead people to get jobs.

Danny Mintz, director of safety net policy at the Louisiana Budget Project, disagreed that the state would benefit from the legislation and said Amedee’s bill would take food from about 78,000 people in Louisiana.

“A lot of research indicates it’s very unlikely that removing these waivers would increase employment among the target population,” Mintz said.

Amedee said federal guidelines currently allow able-bodied adults to receive SNAP benefits beyond three months if they are enrolled in a state workforce program or training program. The rule requires 80 hours of training each month, and recipients must document their training each month.

Mintz said Louisiana does not have the resources to provide 80 hours of job training to everyone who would otherwise lose their SNAP benefits because of this rule. About 73,000 people lost benefits in January simply due to paperwork problems in certifying their eligibility or because their verification documents were not received on time, according to Mintz.

Amedee’s bill could increase the administrative costs for Louisiana if the state has to offer training to thousands of new SNAP recipients and begin keeping track of whose benefits expire after three months, he added.

Amedee said she believes the legislation could help curtail the nationwide labor shortage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The ratio of available jobs is the highest it’s been,” she said. “So if not now, what are we waiting for?”

As of December, there were an estimated 137,000 job openings statewide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The state distributes SNAP benefits to more than 800,000 people, about 73% of whom are in families with children, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research institute. A smaller percentage are able-bodied adults without children who are either not working, are unemployed, or work fewer than 20 hours per week.

SNAP benefits are 100% funded by the federal government, though states cover up to half of the administrative costs required to distribute them. Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy, every $1 in SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.