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Thousands of Missourians Face Food Stamp Cutoff

On Apr. 1, people considered able-bodied adults, ages 18-49 with no dependents, will lose SNAP benefits unless they meet new federal requirements. (Veronica Carter)
On Apr. 1, people considered able-bodied adults, ages 18-49 with no dependents, will lose SNAP benefits unless they meet new federal requirements. (Veronica Carter)
March 15, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – On Apr. 1, people considered able-bodied adults ages 18-49, with no dependents, will lose their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits unless they meet new federal requirements.

They'll have to work at least 20 hours a week, be in school, or participate in a volunteer or job-training program.

Ed Bolen, senior policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said Missouri is one state that chose not to request more time from the federal government to comply with the requirements, even though some counties are still struggling with high jobless numbers.

"I certainly hope there's lots of jobs in those areas of high unemployment, but generally those two things don't exist in the same place at the same time," said Bolen. "So, it could be tough for some folks in the state, where they have high unemployment but the time limit is still coming back into effect."

The Missouri Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon and enacted a law barring the state from waiving work requirements until at least 2019. It affects 60,000 Missourians.

Lawmakers who voted to override the governor's veto contended there were a lot of people receiving food stamps who weren't even trying to get a job. But Bolen pointed out that not everyone can make enough money per hour to lift themselves out of poverty.

"Because the rule is, you have to be working more than 20 hours a week to keep your benefits," he explained. "So, if you have three shifts, 18 hours of work a week on average, and you can't get an extra couple of hours, you actually lose your food assistance, right at the time you're trying to work to make ends meet."

The people affected by the SNAP cutoff are hungry, added Bolen, and will have to rely more on food pantries for help.

"These childless, unemployed adults are very, very poor," he said. "They're usually at around 20 percent of the poverty level – so, well into poverty. And the amount of benefits a month that they get are no more than $180 or $190, and many will get less, so that doesn't raise them out of poverty."

The changes are part of federal rules passed in 1996, although many states, including Missouri, have been under a waiver for the last 20 years because of high unemployment in some counties.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO