States’ Rights and State Wrongs: SNAP Work Requirements in Rural America
In E. Rosser (Ed.), Holes in the Safety Net: Federalism and Poverty (pp. 91-109). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. doi:10.1017/9781108631662.005
26 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2018 Last revised: 23 Mar 2020
Date Written: September 27, 2018
A resurgence in work requirements for safety net programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has marked the early years of the Trump administration. Some lawmakers at both the federal and state level have moved to revive and expand SNAP’s work requirements, despite evidence that such work requirements do little to increase self-sufficiency or improve long-term economic outcomes among those living in poverty. This chapter takes up the issue of work requirements in the context of rural communities, where the need for safety net programs and food system supports is acute. Indeed, data suggest that rural communities are more reliant on SNAP and that the program, like other safety net programs, has greater positive, poverty-alleviation benefits for rural recipients than for urban ones. At the same time, work requirements are particularly poor fits for rural communities, which tend to be characterized by weak labor markets; lack of economic opportunity; and other structural deficits such as geographic isolation, lack of access to transportation, and insufficient childcare. Such factors make it especially difficult for rural residents to satisfy work requirements and thus retain access to SNAP.
This chapter takes up the issue of SNAP work requirements in the context of rural America. We begin with a brief overview of SNAP and examine the recent push to make SNAP work requirements more strict. We then turn to an overview of the need and current state of use of the social safety net in rural America. If work requirements are to be effective — and, indeed, appropriate — work opportunities must be available. We therefore consider employment data and information on safety net use across the rural-urban axis. Finally, we present a case study about the results of relatively early efforts to impose work requirements on SNAP receipt in Maine. While safety network requirements are politically popular, in practice they often fail to achieve their goals of promoting self-sufficiency and in fact worsen the plight of those already suffering the ill-effects of poverty and food insecurity.
Keywords: poverty, federalism, SNAP, food stamps, working poor, work requirements, rural, geography, labor markets, job training, public transportation, Maine
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