Feds Give $200M to Help People on Food Stamps Get Jobs

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The United States Department of Agriculture announced on Friday the recipients of $200 million in grants for projects aimed at getting recipients of SNAP benefits jobs — or, in some cases, better jobs.

Grant recipients in 10 states — California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington — will kick off the three-year pilot projects by October, using funds authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

Since slightly less than two-thirds of the people who get food stamps are either kids, senior citizens or disabled adults, these programs are targeting a relatively narrow slice of the SNAP benefit-receiving population.

“People just don’t realize how many of the beneficiaries are working or kids or seniors.”

“People just don’t realize how many of the beneficiaries are working or kids or seniors,” said Jim Weill, president of the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center.

Much of the work targets the segment the U.S.D.A. terms ABAWDs — able-bodied adults without dependents. Some of the pilots will target homeless people, former inmates and people with substance abuse issues -- groups with challenges not typically addressed by ordinary job-training programs. Others will supplement skills-building with help securing other necessities like childcare or transportation.

Who receives food stamps?

“SNAP serves a much more diverse set of people [today],” said Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank. Until now, there has been very little research to tell policymakers the best ways to give SNAP recipients a way to achieve financial independence, she said. The results of these pilot programs will be evaluated and measured to see which approaches work best.

“I think that’s really important. There was a bipartisan agreement that we didn’t know enough,” Dean said. “We’ll all look at the results and we’ll see if what we believe works really works.”

The issue of wages and hours looms large over any discussion about hunger and poverty policy solutions, however. “There are lots of people who are working, but they’re earning too low a wage or working too few hours,” Dean said.

About one in five SNAP recipients work full-time, are caretakers or participate in a job-training program, and 31 percent had income from earnings in 2013. The average gross monthly income in households that got food stamps in 2013 was $758.

“Many of them are working in jobs where wages are too low to feed their families,” Weill said. “We need to think of this as more of a problem of getting adequate wages to working people than as a problem of job training. It’s both.”

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