New work requirements put food stamps at risk in some CT towns

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In more than half the towns of Connecticut, about 3,600 residents will no longer be eligible to receive food stamps because of the return of a three-month limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed adults who aren't disabled or raising children.

However, there doesn't appear to be a universal threshold for a town's unemployment rate that determines the status of a town, according to a Trend CT analysis.

Officials say the economy has improved to the point that they have reinstated work requirements, which means if people do not work 80 hours per month or take part in 80 hours of a qualified job-training or educational program, they can only receive food stamp benefits for three months out of every three years.

Those requirements were suspended in 2009 when unemployment rates spiked  during the Great Recession.

There are about 428,000 participants in the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) across Connecticut, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. Of that figure, about 56,000 are able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD).

A household receives, on average, about $191 a month in food stamp benefits. Recipients are often living in poverty, with an average household income of about $3,768 a year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"With better unemployment rates now, Connecticut is no longer able to be excused from the federal time limit for the entire state," reads the Connecticut Department of Social Services website.

The chart above is a box-and-whisker plot. It shows the distribution of the unemployment rate for all 169 towns in Connecticut, grouped by whether it has job requirements to be eligible for food stamps.

10 percent

According to federal government guidelines, unemployment must be higher than 10 percent, or states must prove there is a lack of jobs in order for work requirements to be waived.

Towns in Connecticut where requirements will continue to be waived had a median unemployment rate of 4.55 percent, according to the November 2015 jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, in towns that are reinstating the work requirements, the median unemployment rate was 3.6 percent.

But if you look closer at individual towns in Connecticut, it doesn't appear as if the unemployment rate alone distinguishes food stamp requirements.

In cities like Hartford and New Haven that still have high rates of unemployment, residents will continue to be eligible to receive food stamps even if they aren't disabled or raising children.

However, there are a few towns like Willington and Danbury that are above the 10 percent unemployment threshold that will not be eligible come April.

Likewise, towns with similar unemployment rates (around 7.3 percent), such as Stratford and Ashford, are on opposite sides of the eligibility coin.

Update: Lucy Potter from Greater Hartford Legal Aid sent us an update on how town excemptions were determined
"DSS worked out the town by town exemptions with help from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in DS. They followed a methodology approved by FNS that allowed them to sweep in neighboring towns to the towns with higher unemployment rates. The methodology, which they used in many other states, allowed them discretion to try to maximize the number of exempt individuals."

The USDA estimates up to 500,000 food stamp recipients nationwide are in line to lose their SNAP benefits.

States can seek federal permission to waive requirements if areas continue to lack jobs.

But only seven states – California, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Rhode Island and South Carolina – do not require work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents.

Some, like Connecticut and New York, applied for partial state waivers for those towns still suffering the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

And some states, like Wisconsin and Texas, opted not to apply for any waivers at all.

What do you think?

  • Duffterrall

    “an average household income of about $3,768 a year”
    Can you verify that number is correct? That looks like a dropped digit or decimal place.

  • adam smith

    It’s fairly obvious what the deal is: if the town has lot of minorities it’ approved whether or not you work. If there are lots of White people they get they “there’s no excuse” principle applied.