NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Welfare Work Requirements Prompt Lawsuit

November 11, 2014

The federal food stamp program (more formally, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) imposes a work requirement for able-bodied adults without children. Those food stamp recipients are only eligible for three months of food stamp benefits unless they work -- or participate in a "work activity" -- for a minimum of 20 hours per week.

But as Rachel Sheffield, policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, reports, a number of states applied for and received waivers that exempted them from imposing the work requirement on able-bodied adults in 2009. New Mexico was one of these states and has spent the last five years without a work requirement.

This year, however, New Mexico decided to reinstate work requirements and impose additional requirements for able-bodied adults who do not have children under the age of six. In response, two groups -- the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Southwest Organizing Project -- sued the state, arguing that the requirements were unfair. But the state's Human Services Department, which manages the program, stressed that the work requirement waiver was only ever intended to be temporary and that the state's goal was to make more people become self-sufficient.

Sheffield contends that self-sufficiency should form the foundation of any welfare system. Indeed, NCPA Senior Fellow Peter Ferrara has encouraged replacing the entire federal welfare system with a safety net, block granted to the states, that provides welfare dollars to the able-bodied only in return for work. He outlines a system in which welfare recipients could be guaranteed a minimum wage in exchange for a full day's work. Not only would such a system incentivize Americans to work (because work would be the only way to receive government benefits), but it would provide low-income Americans with valuable skills and experience which they could use to advance into higher-paying jobs.

Source: Rachel Sheffield, "Food Stamp Recipients, Advocates Sue Over Work Requirements," Daily Signal, November 7, 2014.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues