Low-income residents in Florida may lose their government food stamps due to the reinstatement of a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food stamps to millions of low-income families and individuals around the nation, but during the 2015 legislative session, Florida elected to reinstate the limit on SNAP during any 36-month period.
About 8,000 residents in Citrus, Levy and Marion counties and at least 300,000 in Florida could be affected.
The time limits apply to Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs). This includes adults 18-49 who are unemployed or in a job training program for at least 20 hours per week, are physically and mentally able to work, and do not have dependent children.
Time limits were first introduced as part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Now, with the improvement of the economy, they are being reapplied.
Florida has government work programs, but it is not required to ensure that everyone who applies gets a job, according to Ellen Vollinger, the legal/food stamp director of the Food Research & Action Center.
The 1996 law allowed states that qualify for waivers to suspend the time limits if there are high and chronic rates of unemployment, but in a 2015 special session, the Florida Legislature voted to prohibit the Department of Children and Families from obtaining waivers without permission from the Legislature.
“I can’t speak to what the lawmakers were thinking, but it’s a misguided decision,” said Vollinger.
Citrus, Hernando and Putnam counties are on the list of 2016 Labor Surplus Areas, areas of sustained unemployment, that could qualify for waivers if the DCF chooses to ask the Legislature for permission.
During the Great Recession of 2007, the time limits were lifted in Florida. Florida and 23 other states are implementing the time limit for the first time since the recession.
Laura Byrnes, the communications manager of CareerSource North Central Florida, anticipates an increase in traffic to their career center as people rush to find jobs.
The Gainesville Community Ministry (GCM) is also anticipating an influx of people looking to take advantage of their Strategies to Empower People for Success and Work Path classes, both of which are programs aimed at teaching life and job skills that lead to self-sufficiency.
But the job search alone isn’t enough, Vollinger said. According to Vollinger, there aren’t a sufficient number of jobs.
Vollinger said the lack of jobs will hurt a very diverse population of men, women, homeless and even military veterans.
“The SNAP allowance (usually $150-$200 per month) is sometimes the only benefit they’re eligible for,” she said.
Michael Wright, the executive director of GCM, said there hasn’t been a significant increase in the number of people taking advantage of their food programs but was quick to point out that perhaps it’s too early to start looking at numbers.
The SNAP time limit changes were implemented at the beginning of the year, so people may not start to feel the effect until April, Wright said.