Re-Framing SNAP and Work Requirements

On June 30, Come to the Table partnered with RAFI’s Challenging Corporate Power Program to host a webinar entitled “Food as a Human Right: Re-Framing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Work Requirements.” The webinar addressed the history of SNAP, how work requirements have been tied to eligibility, and the energy behind the “food as a human right” movement.

SNAP benefits have come a long way since the introduction of the Food Stamps Program in the late 1930s and were further strengthened during the 1960s. The program began with the dual purpose of bolstering the economic welfare of farmers by alleviating their surplus produce while also providing food assistance to citizens. Now SNAP has transitioned to become more of a social welfare program with different requirements from the initial scope of the program. The work support requirement, which was a national talking point in the 1980s and 1990s, created a power dynamic where SNAP recipients had to work to receive full benefits.

Today, the work support requirement necessitates that SNAP recipients must maintain a certain amount of working hours per month or participate in a job training program to receive food assistance. Decades of upholding work requirements within the federal food assistance program has thus implied a particular moral framework, in which recipients’ right to food is directly dependent on their ability to work.

RAFI’s Challenging Corporate Power Senior Program Manager Aaron Johnson led participants through the negative implications of tying work requirements to SNAP benefits. Johnson provided research showing how work requirements do not increase employment, have negative public health impacts, and fail to alleviate food insecurity. Johnson also documented how corporate interests align with expanding the work requirements attached to SNAP to create further dependence of workers with employers, specifically highlighting a recent survey which showed that 75% of Kroger’s employees are food insecure.  

With the forthcoming Farm Bill – of which 80% is dedicated to nutrition spending – Johnson identified multiple avenues that SNAP funding may shift.  There is movement to expand the work requirement maximum age to receive SNAP benefits from 49 to 54 years, with a possibility of that age rising to 65 years. This would put approximately 750,000 people at risk of losing benefits if they are not working as they continue to age. However, an offset is occurring based on expanding exemptions for veterans, unhoused folks, and foster children, thus expanding the positive reach.

Come to the Table Program Director Justine Post finished the webinar with a discussion around the right to food as it pertains to food assistance. While the UN recognizes the right to food, the United States lacks proper scaffolding for a right to food to be recognized and executed. Post communicated that the right to food does not mean the right to be fed or to receive government handouts, but instead recognizes the right to food sovereignty, which protects self-determination for people to grow or purchase adequate food themselves. Prioritizing the right to food in the U.S. thus rightly challenges how SNAP is administered and opens up new perspectives on food justice in this country.  

To learn more about RAFI’s Farm Bill Platform, click here. To join our Policy Action Network, click here.

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