After waging a noisy summer-long campaign to modify food stamps rules in the name of rewarding work, House Republicans have cut off funding to the job training programs that go along with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by shutting down the government.
Those employment and training programs, known as SNAP E&T, are being left to their own devices during the shutdown, according to a Department of Agriculture (USDA) document providing answers to questions from anti-hunger groups and program administrators that was obtained by ThinkProgress. The USDA “does not expect any new FY 2014 funding will be available for E&T during the lapse,” the document says repeatedly. Like various other safety net programs, including one that provides food assistance for pregnant women and infants, the amount of cash on hand to cover the loss of funding for these job programs varies from state to state.
SNAP E&T funds go to job training, GED classes, work search and placement programs, and other efforts to help food stamp recipients either find work or improve their job qualifications. While there is no certain cutoff date for SNAP E&T, “the likelihood is if this lasts more than a few more days, they will shut down job training programs,” according to anti-hunger expert Joel Berg. “It’s so complex we just don’t know how much money is left.”
Berg, who heads the New York Coalition Against Hunger and is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, said program administrators are caught unprepared by the shutdown. “They thought the adults were going to fix it,” Berg said. “People didn’t spend a lot of time preparing for something that seems so insane it wasn’t going to occur. You don’t spend a lot of time preparing for a UFO landing either.”
“Right now people are scrambling around the country at the state and local level to figure out where these programs will continue,” Berg said. That scrambling amounts to time and resources that could have been spent providing services, and it’s costing taxpayers. “This is another example of how this is spending more money and using more bureaucracy,” he said.
The result may well be that hungry people who are following the rules will still lose benefits. While the vast majority of states have taken advantage of a hardship provision in food stamps law that allows them to waive work requirements when unemployment is too high for such requirements to be effective, several have not. If SNAP E&T funds run out in those states, and job training programs close their doors, food stamps recipients who are doing everything their government asks of them could nonetheless lose their food money. When Republicans instigated the government shutdown that began Tuesday as part of a fight to undermine the 2010 health care reform law, Berg says they also underscored the hypocrisy of their position on food stamps. “This proves they’re awful at rewarding work,” Berg said.
The inaccurate depiction of SNAP recipients as lazy dependents who prefer to live on the dole rather than work was a core component of this summer’s Republican effort to impose significant cuts and eligibility changes on the food stamps program. (About two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, disabled, or the elderly, and among the remaining recipients who could reasonably be expected to work, nearly all find jobs within a year of being on the program.) When House Republicans finally passed a food stamps bill, it included heightened work requirements that would undermine the program’s flexibility to address spikes in hunger. It did not, however, provide additional funds for SNAP E&T.