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Report: Stricter Work Requirements to Burden Working Poor

Increasing work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid will likely burden low-wage workers, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report released July 24.

A March 2018 CBPP report revealed that most SNAP recipients are already employed, finding that most “worked in the majority of months in which they received SNAP assistance” and that “over one-third of non-disabled adults worked in every month they participated in SNAP.”

The CBPP’s July 2018 report built on this data, noting that among SNAP recipients with a work-limiting disability who were employed in the past year, “85 percent reported working at least 20 weeks over the year, 79 percent reported usually working at least 30 hours per week, and 70 percent reported working both at least 20 weeks and at least 30 hours per week.”

A majority of SNAP and Medicaid recipients possess no higher than a high school education, and they often work in industries with lower wages and significant fluctuation in job opportunities, including nursing aides, cashiers, cooks and retail sales staff.

The report said 95 percent of all 18- to 64-year-old U.S. adults (without a disability and without children under age 6) who were employed at least one week in 2017 worked 20 or more weeks, 87 percent worked 30 or more hours each week, and 85 percent worked both 20 or more weeks and 30 or more hours each week.

The numbers were nearly identical among those with a high school degree or less: 94 percent, 87 percent and 84 percent, respectively.

“Even though the majority of adults with low levels of education worked a substantial amount, their annual incomes from wages were low and grew almost not at all between 2002 and 2017,” the report stated.

The real median income of all U.S workers aged 18-64 employed 20 or more weeks a year and 30 or more hours per week increased $2,600 from 2002 to 2017.

Workers with a high school degree or less saw their real median income decline by $700 to $31,000 over the same time period.

The median annual income for the top occupations among SNAP and Medicaid recipients is $22,000, compared to $47,600 for the top occupations among middle-class workers.

Adults with a high school diploma or less are significantly more likely to be at risk of poverty, despite working 20 or more weeks a year and 30 or more hours each week.

Of all employed U.S. adults aged 18-64 working an average of 20 or more weeks annually and 30 or more hours each week, 5.4 percent had annual incomes below U.S. poverty thresholds.

That number jumps to 8.5 percent for those with only a high school diploma or less, and to 11 percent for those with a work-limiting disability.

Medicaid and SNAP recipients were even more likely to have incomes below the poverty thresholds (18.3 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively), despite being employed while receiving government assistance.

“State and federal policymakers are considering, or have already imposed, work requirements that would take away SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits or Medicaid coverage from people who are not working or engaged in work-related activities for a required number of hours each month,” the report stated. “An understanding of the labor market that SNAP and Medicaid beneficiaries face makes clear that it will be difficult for many individuals and families to meet proposed work requirements.”

The full report is available here.