Joanika Davis relies on the $194 per month she receives in food stamp benefits every month to help her get by as she searches for employment.
But on Jan. 1, Davis is set to lose that financial lifeline — one of approximately 31,000 Louisianians set to suffer as a result of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to reinstate the work requirement for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in his state.
SNAP rules typically allow full benefits to single able-bodied adults only if they have jobs or are enrolled in a job-training program. Otherwise, they may access food stamp benefits for no more than three months every three years. States with high unemployment can apply for a federal waiver, dropping that work requirement and allowing single adults to access full benefits regardless of their job status.
Since the beginning of the Great Recession, nearly every state in the country sought and was granted a federal waiver at some point. But recently, a number of states with Republican governors have allowed their waivers to expire, citing improved economic circumstances and a desire to get their food stamp recipients back to work. Jindal, a Republican, allowed Louisiana’s waiver to lapse on Oct. 1.
“We continue to seek opportunities for SNAP recipients to increase their self-sufficiency. Engaging in work activities is a key step in that transition,” said Suzy Sonnier, the head of Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services, in a Sept. 30 statement.
Starting in January, Davis, who told Al Jazeera that she is still hunting for a job, will have to find ways to make up a monthly shortfall of nearly $200. “Why should I have to fight for food right now?” she asked. “Why should I have to fight to drink water?"
And it is not only people in Louisiana who are losing out.
Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming have recently allowed the work requirement to be reimposed, leaving 28 states with their food stamp waivers intact in fiscal year 2016.
The people affected by the reinstatement of the work requirement tend to be among the poorest of the poor, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an economic think tank. In 2014 able-bodied, childless, unemployed adults on food stamps had an average of $2,200 in gross income, the center found.
It also found that states that reimpose the work requirement tend to see a sudden sharp drop in SNAP participants, suggesting that thousands of unemployed recipients are unable to find work and maintain their eligibility.
“The idea that anybody is choosing not to work because of $190 dollars a month in food stamps — that’s really kind of a stereotype,” said Steve Spires, a senior policy analyst for the Louisiana Budget Project. “The reality is a lot of people want to work. There simply aren’t jobs. And with the price of oil going down and more job losses, it’s getting worse.”
In Louisiana, at least, the reimposition of the work requirement may prove temporary. John Bel Edwards, the Democrat who will succeed Jindal as governor on Jan. 11, has vowed to request a federal waiver on his first day in office. He has written to Sonnier and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, asking that they work to prevent childless unemployed adults in Louisiana from experiencing a gap in their benefits.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Martin