Illinois seeks waiver from SNAP work requirements

As the federal farm bill moves forward, Illinois has once again asked for a waiver from the federal requirement for able-bodied adults without children to work to get food assistance. https://www.ilnews.org/news/economy/illinois-seeks-waiver-from-snap-work-requirements/article_c2bc7bdc-f8cc-11e8-ac70-7b3f28138897.html

As the federal farm bill moves forward, Illinois has once again asked for a waiver from the federal requirement for able-bodied adults without children to work to get food assistance.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, thinks failure to reform to the waiver process is a missed opportunity to help get people out of poverty. Davis said there’s an agreement in principle on the farm bill.

“We had to send the legislative language to the appropriate scoring agencies to get the scores,” Davis said. “You’ll see the language leaked out. I think it’s going to be a win-win for farmers.”

Davis is on the conference committee to bring the House and Senate versions of the federal farm bill into agreement with each other. While he said farmers will benefit, he’s disappointed reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, weren’t included. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is sometimes called food stamps.

“I’m not expecting the waiver reforms that I had hoped for, and that I had pushed for, which also means I’m not expecting the investment in education and training that was so robust and substantial,” Davis said.

Federal law requires able-bodied adults without dependents to work in order to get SNAP benefits for more than 90 days, but states can request waivers from the requirements based in part on unemployment rates.

The Foundation for Government Accountability said in a report earlier this year “while Illinois technically has a ‘partial’ work requirement waiver, the overwhelming majority of the state is exempted from commonsense work requirements. The current waiver exempts 101 of the state’s 102 counties and runs from January 2018 through December 2018.”

The Illinois Department of Human Services said Illinois has requested a waiver for 2019 from the work requirements for able-bodied adults.

“All counties in Illinois are included in the waiver request with the exception of DuPage County due to low unemployment rates,” IDHS spokeswoman Meghan Powers said.

More than 1.7 million people in Illinois got SNAP benefits in August, about 13.2 percent of the state’s population.

The department said the work requirements for able-bodied adults are misleading because some people have other challenges to finding employment. Able-bodied adults without dependents are referred to as ABAWDs in SNAP parlance.

“Research has shown that many of the individuals classified as ABAWDs have significant barriers to gaining employment like mental illnesses, substance use disorders, justice involvement, and significant physical limitations,” Powers said. “We remain fully committed to connecting the ABAWD population with the necessary resources and programs to gain employment and transition to self-sufficiency.”

In the conference committee for the farm bill, Davis said he fought for waiver reform. He also tried to get training dollars in the mix to provide people with training for skilled jobs so they could get out of poverty and off of SNAP. He doesn’t expect the waiver reform or the training dollars, to be included in the final version of the bill.

“And I think that’s a missed opportunity to help families get themselves out of the cycle of poverty,” Davis said.

States have workarounds not just for work requirements, but also other federal mandates. The FGA said regulations adopted by President Bill Clinton and expanded further by President Barack Obama administration created “new loopholes for states to exploit.” Those loopholes, the FGA said, are broad-based categorical eligibility, or BBCEs.

“State exploited this new leeway by using block-granted [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] funding to print welfare brochures, operate a toll-free number providing program information, or include information about other programs at the bottom of food stamp applications,” FGA said. “States then claim that anyone who receives information from these sources is receiving a ‘benefit’ funded by the TANF program and can be deemed categorically eligible, bypassing asset tests and the federal income eligibility limit.”

In a report released this week FGA said there are 284,700 food assistance recipients in Illinois that wouldn’t be qualified if there weren’t various such BBCEs, for a cost of over $418 million. It said that money could instead go to those who truly need it.

The FGA report said without Congress, President Donald Trump’s administration could roll back such waivers through administrative rules for a total savings of $7 billion a year.

“Rolling back this disastrous policy would restore categorical eligibility to its statutory purpose,” the report said. “If the Administration seizes the opportunity, it can help restore much-needed program integrity and protect resources for the truly vulnerable.”

Illinois is one of 40 states that use such waivers and loopholes, “adding millions of people to the food stamp program who do not qualify and taking resources meant for the truly need,” the FGA report said.

https://www.ilnews.org/news/economy/illinois-seeks-waiver-from-snap-work-requirements/article_c2bc7bdc-f8cc-11e8-ac70-7b3f28138897.html

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