USDA should eliminate SNAP ABAWD time limit waivers altogether and require all able-bodied adults without children to work, train or volunteer in order to receive benefits.
These waivers are counterproductive policies that have the unintended effect of trapping SNAP participants in the cycle of dependency and poverty while stressing resources intended for the truly needy. They increase the likelihood that a participant and their family will remain on assistance, making them more likely to live in poverty.
Current policy uses state-level unemployment data to waive ABAWD work requirements, but this is a deceptive data point. For instance, New Mexico’s unemployment rate is 5.8 percent, substantively higher than the 4.1 percent national average. But only one county in our state is above the 10 percent threshold for county-level unemployment waivers, while residents of three counties where unemployment is under the national average are still exempt from work requirements.
More importantly, even in areas of relatively high unemployment the ABAWD time limit waiver slows state and national economic growth by decreasing the chance that New Mexicans receiving welfare benefits will search out the jobs that are being created as our state’s economy improves. This is the time for people to rejoin the workforce, as unemployment has dropped 0.6 percent in the past 12 months. Notably, in a state with an estimated 53,900 unemployed workers, there are almost 10,000 “entry-level” jobs posted on just one Internet job board. Restoring the incentive to find work will move more New Mexicans off assistance and into those open jobs, further growing the economy while reducing the burden to taxpayers.
The Trump Administration should be praised for taking on the disastrous policies of the last decade that quintupled the number of able-bodied adults without children receiving SNAP benefits nationwide. To reverse this unsustainable trend, USDA’s efforts to help SNAP participants find and maintain meaningful unemployment would be best served by implementing the principle that able-bodied adults without children must be required to work, train or volunteer in order to receive benefits.