WASHINGTON — Ashanti Davis, who lives in St. Paul, is among thousands of Minnesotans who will soon face what for him is a tough choice – get a job or lose food stamp benefits.
As an adult without dependent children, Davis, 36, will soon be subject to work requirements that were lifted for the food stamp program during past three years because the pandemic. But the emergency declaration that paused the work requirement ended in February and they will be reinstated in July.
So about 32,500 Minnesotans like Davis will have to prove they work or attend a work training program for at least 80 hours a month to continue to receive benefits from the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP), the official name for food stamps. Otherwise, they can get the benefits for only three months within a three-year period.
“If I have to, I guess I’ll do it,” said Davis about finding a job. But he said working will be difficult for him.
Davis had been employed, as a cashier at a thrift shop and a security guard, before his Type 1 diabetes became too difficult to control.
“I could not keep my blood sugar level,” he said.
Like many SNAP recipients, Davis suffered a cut in benefits, in his case from about $295 a month to $200 a month, when the pandemic-era boost to benefit ended in February. Now he also faces the reintroduction of work requirements for single adults like him.
And House Republicans are seeking to broaden those requirements as one of their conditions for raising the nation’s debt ceiling. A default would roil the U.S. economy.
The GOP plan calls for raising the age which would exempt single, childless SNAP recipients from the work requirements to 55. The age at which no work requirements are imposed on those “abled-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) is currently 50.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, if the age limit were raised to 55 years and older, approximately 6,700 additional Minnesotans could be subject to work requirements.
Work requirements were included in the SNAP program by Republican lawmakers who argued that they can lift people out of poverty and end their reliance on the government.
“Incentives matter. And the incentives today are out of whack,” said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in a speech last month at the New York Stock Exchange. “It’s time to get Americans back to work.”
House Republicans are also seeking to broaden work requirements on some Medicaid recipients and impose cuts on all domestic programs in their negotiations with the White House over the debt ceiling.
For many Democrats, especially members of the House Progressive Caucus like Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., cutting people off food stamps, in which he said the average benefit is a “measly” $6 a day is cause enough to reject a debt-limit agreement.
“How rotten do they want to be?” McGovern asked of GOP lawmakers who insist on expanding SNAP work requirements.
‘Coming into a hard time’
For Davis, food stamps helps him afford “the right kind of food” to battle his illness at a time when food prices have risen sharply due to inflation and remain stubbornly high.
Type 1 diabetics like Davis are urged to eat a consistent amount of food every day and take insulin to control their disease. And most patients are urged to consume diets low in sugar and fats and high in fruits and vegetables.
The reinstatement of work requirements will disproportionately impact other low-income, single adults, in the state too.
According to a letter sent to every member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation by Alison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland, the largest food bank in the state, at least one-in-four single adults without children who receive food stamps are homeless, one in three have significant chronic health conditions that interfere with stable employment and 40% have severe mental illness.
“The vast majority of SNAP participants who can work already are,” O’Toole said.
She sent the letter to the members of Congress in response to the GOP plans to expand work requirements and said that would “barely affect our national debt – and it will have a negative impact on local economies, especially in rural Minnesota.”
Rachel Sosnowchik, spokeswoman for Second Harvest Heartland, said the food bank is feeding more people now than at the height of the pandemic and the end of the extra benefits SNAP recipients had been receiving has increased food insecurity.
“We are coming into a very hard time now,” Sosnowchik said.
The reintroduction of work requirements will make things worse, with many recipients unaware that they will be in effect on July 1, she said.
Tom McKenna, a former Marine and board member of Every Third Saturday, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that helps struggling military veterans, handing out hundreds of $25 grocery store gift cards a year.
McKenna said the work requirements will hurt many of the vets who come to Every Third Saturday for free clothes and hygiene items, and for music and art therapy and a place to gather with friends.
“I think this is going to cause food insecurity for veterans who didn’t have to worry about it for the last several years,” McKenna said.