Over the course of 2016, more than 500,000 and as many as 1 million of the nation’s poorest people will be cut off SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program),1 leaving them to struggle in an economy where wages are stagnant and full time work is difficult to find. In this round of cuts, unemployed adults between the ages of 18-49 who are able bodied and have no children have been targeted to lose their benefits. This is particularly troubling because SNAP benefits are often the only form of assistance they can access and this overlooked population tends to be extremely poor, with their gross income averaging 17 percent of the poverty line- about $2,000 per year.1
This three-month time limit was included in the 1996 welfare law, which limits childless, able bodied adults to three months of SNAP benefits when they are not employed or in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week. This means that a person could be diligently looking for a job, have a part time job and be in search of full time work, or be called upon to care for a family member and would still lose the only benefit available to them.
This year, the time limit will be in effect in more than 40 states. In 23 states, it will be the first time that the time limit has been in effect since before the recession.1 In most of these states, the time limit went into effect in January, meaning that many people will have their SNAP benefits taken away at the end of this month.
The return of the time limit imposed on SNAP benefits will have a large-scale impact on at least 500,000 unemployed Americans who rely on these benefits to meet their nutritional needs. Congress is unlikely to act on extending the time limit or include diligently searching for jobs as a way to retain SNAP benefits. With Congress unlikely to take any action, states must begin to plan on the how to assist those who need to meet their basic nutritional needs.
As people of faith, we must remember the parable of the sheep and goats: whatever we do to “the least of these” brothers and sisters of mine, we also do to Jesus himself (Matthew 25:40). We must remember “that God our creator has made the world for everyone, and desires that all shall have daily bread” (UPCUSA, Minutes, 1979, p.189). Alleviating hunger and eliminating its causes is at the very heart of the life of the church. It is the responsibility of the Church to speak out and share all that we have, and therefore we must help our brothers and sisters who are about to lose their only way to meet their basic nutritional needs.
1 1. “More Than 500,000 Adults Will Lose SNAP Benefits in 2016 as Waivers Expire” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. January 21, 2016.
Mara Sawdy hails from West Newton, Pennsylvania and is a 2015 graduate of Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA. In college, she studied environmental science and peace studies. She is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness and Miriam's Kitchen in Washington, DC.