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Republican proposals would place more restrictions on SNAP benefits

Credit: iStock

by Caitlin Sievers, Arizona Mirror
March 14, 2024

Two Republican proposals in the state legislature would make it more difficult for Arizonans in need to keep government benefits to help them pay for food. 

The bills would impose training or work requirements on “abled-bodied” people using the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, and would bar the Arizona Department of Economic Security from applying for work requirement waivers on behalf of able-bodied workers. 

SNAP, formerly called food stamps, helps families with low or no income pay for groceries through monthly benefits. More than 900,000 Arizonans are currently enrolled. 

House Bill 2502, sponsored by Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Havasu City, mandates that SNAP recipients aged 18-60 who are able-bodied, and don’t have disabled dependents or children younger than six, either be employed at least 30 hours per week or participate in a work training program. 

And Biasiucci’s House Bill 2503 would stop DES from applying or renewing work requirement waivers on behalf of beneficiaries in the state, something that the department might do for people living in counties that have fewer job opportunities and higher unemployment than the state as a whole. 

During a Feb. 12 House Health and Human Services Committee hearing, Biasiucci explained that a voluntary employment training program is already offered to SNAP beneficiaries, but relatively few use it. 

“At some point, if you’re able-bodied and able to work, let’s get you that training so you can get back to work and off the system,” Biasiucci said. 

Sam Adolphsen, from the Opportunity Solutions Project, a right-leaning organization based in Florida, said that about 230,000 Arizonans on SNAP were able bodied adults and 63% of those aren’t employed. 

Only about 5,000 people currently participate in SNAP’s voluntary employment and training program that costs around $11 million per year, Adolfsen said. 

But Ashley St. Thomas, with the Arizona Food Bank Network, countered that while that may be true on a monthly basis, the vast majority of those people did work at some point over the past year. Most are seasonal workers who use SNAP to feed their families between jobs. 

Scott Centorino, another representative of the Opportunity Solutions Project, said during a Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting on March 12 that Biasiucci’s proposal was all about the “dignity of work.” 

“That’s what this bill is about the principle of work and the policy of work,” he said. 

Rep. Patricia Contreras, D-Phoenix, pointed out during the Feb. 12 meeting that, if in-person training opportunities were not available statewide, SNAP recipients in rural areas would have difficulty meeting the requirements. 

Adolfsen said that those people could participate virtually, but Contreras countered that those struggling with food insecurity in rural areas might not have internet access. Adolfsen responded that those people could get reimbursement for travel to training or employment opportunities. 

“If those folks just find that job, the E&T (employment and training) program isn’t a requirement,” he said. 

Drew Schaffer, with the William E. Morris Institute of Justice, which advocates for low-income Arizonans, pointed out that more than two-thirds of those using SNAP in the state are children, seniors and people with disabilities. Many of the remaining third do work, he said, just not full-time. While seniors and people with disabilities are exempt from the work requirements, those with children six and older are not. 

Several of those who spoke in opposition to the bills in committee hearings in the Senate and the House pointed out that mandatory employment training programs are expensive and haven’t been proven to increase employment or wages for their participants. 

During the March 12 Health and Human Services Committee meeting, St. Thomas said that a successful employment and training program for Arizona’s SNAP recipients would cost an estimated $397 million. Biasucci’s bill does not include an appropriation to expand the program. 

Pilot employment and training programs tied to SNAP in 10 states that began in 2015 found that most work-based learning programs did not lead to permanent employment, and more than half of those who did occupational training did so in fields unrelated to the jobs they were actually looking for. 

Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, D-Laveen, voted against the bill, saying on the House floor on Feb. 21 that no one should go hungry in the wealthiest nation in the world. 

“The truth is that justifications for work requirements oftentimes rest on the false assumptions that people who receive benefits do not work and must be compelled to do so,” he said. “Let’s be clear: These assumptions are oftentimes rooted in stereotypes about race, gender, disability and class status. They ignore the reality of the low-paid labor market, the lack of child care and paid sick and family leave, and how health and disability issues and the need to care for family members affect peoples’ lives.”

Michelle Simpson, of the William E. Morris Institute for Justice, pointed out on March 12 that it was already difficult to find employers to participate in the voluntary version of the program, and it would be a struggle to find enough to serve those on SNAP in rural areas, if this bill became law. 

Centorino said there were enough exemptions in the bill, and in federal law, to allow for everyone who has a reasonable excuse not to be required to participate. 

“I think that it is a little unreasonable to suggest existing exemptions are comprehensive enough to include people who might be physically capable of working, but in a situation that makes it impossible for that to be practical for their lives,” Sen. Eva Burch, a Democrat, countered. 

She said the bill was “anti-poor people” and would hurt those in rural communities as well as existing efforts to continue a voluntary employment and training program that’s actually helpful to participants. 

Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, said she had used food stamps for six months when she was in college, and that they’re meant to help someone get back on their feet, not live off of the system. 

“For your family to be on it for years at a time, I’m sorry, but that’s not what food stamps is for,” she said. “We’re talking about people who can and should be working and earning their own money, and instead they’re living off of our taxpayer dollars and they’re just living off the system. It’s time to clean up the fraud, waste and abuse.” 

To be eligible for SNAP, Arizonans must make 130% of the poverty rate in gross monthly income, or $1,580 for a single person and $3,250 for a family of four. Arizona’s median household income in 2022 was around $6,000 per month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bill passed through the House on Feb. 22 by a party line vote of 31-28 and was approved by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on March 12 by a vote of 4-2. 

It will next head to the full Senate for consideration. 

This story is republished from AZ Mirror under a Creative Commons license, Read the original story.