As many as 280,000 people in Arizona could lose help getting food if a congressional bill passes in the weeks ahead.
That’s the number of people statewide who would need to find a job within a month or lose food assistance for a year. Another 30,000 Arizona residents could find themselves ineligible for food help altogether if the pending legislation passes.
The legislation, called the Farm Bill, would change how dollars for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are distributed and could leave working poor families without enough support, said Angie Rodgers, president of the Association of Arizona Food Banks. About 40,000 children statewide are at risk of losing free school lunches, she said.
Many states, including Arizona, currently use an option that allows the state to raise the gross income cutoff for SNAP eligibility, making more low-income families eligible for help, on average about $100 worth of food a month. That option would go away under the bill, which would change the criteria for eligibility.
Republicans say the work requirement proposals are meant to assist those who may have fallen on hard times get back on their feet, off public assistance and into the workforce, National Public Radio reported in April.
President Trump has said this is a way to end a situation in which, he said, “the person who is not working at all and has no intention of working at all is making more money and doing better than the person that’s working his and her ass off,” the Wall Street Journal reported May 9.
The Journal has also reported that House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has been a vocal champion of overhauling safety-net programs to lower federal spending and push people to work.
Overall, cuts to SNAP under this legislation would total more than $17 billion nationwide over the next 10 years.
There are currently work requirements for able-bodied people without children who receive SNAP. If they do not get a job over a three-month period, they lose their benefits for the next 36 months.
The current bill would change both the work requirement and who is required to work, expanding it to include everyone except those with children under the age of 6, Rodgers said.
SNAP benefits usually diminish as the person’s income increases, she said, but this “would be more like a cliff,” meaning that a family close to the income threshold that accepts a small wage increase or starts logging more work hours would lose all SNAP benefits if earnings go above the federal threshold.
“By targeting people who gain a modest increase in earnings, this provision of the House Farm Bill would punish struggling working families just as they are getting back on their feet,” said David Lujan of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress.
Currently, a family of three earning around $37,000 per year can qualify for some food assistance, usually a little more than $100 per month, but this would drop to $28,000 for a family of three under the pending change.
Rodgers said about half of the people who frequent Arizona’s food banks already get SNAP, but that’s not enough, on slim wages, to get through to the end of the month.