Estimates say thousands could lose food assistance due to work requirement
(Jan. 3, 2020) The supplemental nutritional assistance program in Worcester County could see a major shift because of a change in federal requirements, although how large an impact that will be remains to be determined.
Last month, the Trump administration approved a measure to require states to enforce the work requirement for able-bodied adults without children to receive food assistance.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program allows able-bodied adults without children to receive three months of benefits in a three-year period if they are unemployed. These individuals can receive full benefits if they work or participate in a work training program for at least 20 hours a week.
In the past, states have waived the work requirement during times of economic hardship or high unemployment rate. The enforcement measure will make it more difficult for states to waive the work requirement.
According to Roberta Baldwin, director of social services for Worcester County, the county is currently exempt from the work requirement because of high unemployment.
As of September 2019, Worcester County’s unemployment rate was 4.7 percent and Maryland sits at 3.7 percent.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said that the work requirement will be enforced due to the nation’s low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent and to ensure that Americans do not become dependent.
It is estimated that thousands across the nation could lose their benefits as a result.
Baldwin said she wasn’t sure yet if the enforced work requirement would affect the county.
“It will be based on Maryland’s response, the state’s response to how they would handle the changes,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin listed a few obstacles to employment that are unique to the area.
Since the county has many seasonal opportunities, the unemployment rate is naturally higher during the winter months. As for skilled employment, there might not be a market for the specific set of skills an individual has. Finally, not everyone has access to reliable transportation.
“Our county is so widespread that individuals that do not live where there is a large number of work opportunities are challenged in getting to and from their job,” Baldwin said. “Sometimes, there is limited routes for the transit programs. We’re a very rural area, so there are some parts of our county where there are not bus stops.”
She added that those who have a physical or mental disability or have the custody and care of a child are exempt from the work requirement. Even if the work requirement does take place in the county, Baldwin speculated that the impact could potentially lower than expected.
“Most individuals are receiving assistance and currently working also,” Baldwin said. “In that respect, it may not impact as many people as you think because it is a supplemental assistance program.”
Despite that speculation, she said social services will be prepared.
“Our department, social services, would look at opportunities to support the community if this were to take effect,” Baldwin said. “We would very proactive in putting services in place to support those who would lose their SNAP benefits to the best that we could.”
She pointed out that social services has recently worked with the county to receive funding to support distribution food to families without any stipulation on the family’s part, and that the county is working to provide grants to faith-based organizations and other nonprofits who may see a higher demand with the benefits changes.
“The county does already have food pantries that are very active,” Baldwin said. “It might be a good time to ask if any communities are wanting to do something over the holiday season, certainly donating food is something that they could do – nonperishable food.”