Exclusive–California Waiver Loophole Exempts 95% of Counties from Food Stamp Work Requirements

SNAP program

Breitbart News exclusively obtained California’s food stamp waiver, which details how the state exploited a loophole in SNAP work requirements to exempt 95 percent of its counties from food stamp work requirements.

The Department of Agriculture approved a waiver in July for 55 out of 58 counties in California to become exempt from work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps.

SNAP typically requires able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) between the age of 18 and 49 and is not disabled to work to continue receiving food stamps. The current SNAP statute requires that able-bodied working-age adults without dependents work at least 80 hours per month. If an ABAWD does not comply with the work requirement, then the citizen can only receive three months of SNAP benefits during any three-year period.

The House passed its Farm bill which includes work requirements for SNAP and also closes the loophole that allows states such as California to exempt its citizens from working to continue receiving SNAP benefits. The House Farm would require roughly 8.8 percent of food stamp recipients, or four million Americans, to spend roughly 80 hours per month working, looking for work, or obtaining job training to continue receiving SNAP benefits.

States may request a waiver for SNAP’s work requirements from the Department of Agriculture if they meet certain criteria, which includes:

  • A recent 12-month unemployment rate above 10 percent
  • A recent 3-month unemployment rate above 10 percent
  • A recent 24-month average unemployment rate 20 percent or higher above the national average.

California is one of the eight states not to have a statewide waiver for food stamp work requirements, 28 states have partial waivers, and 17 states have no waiver status from the Department of Agriculture.

California started its waiver to exempt almost all of its counties from food stamp requirements from September 1, 2018, to August 31, 2019. September is the last month of the fiscal year, which allows California to use unemployment data that dates back to 2015. If the waiver began in October instead of September, they would have had to use 2016 data instead, which would have lower unemployment data compared to California’s waiver unemployment data during the 2015 to 2017 period.

California contended in its waiver application that during the April 2015 through March 2017 period, the national average unemployment rate was 4.95 percent, while its 55 counties have an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent, which meets the 20 percent or higher unemployment rate requirement in the 24-month average stipulation for SNAP waivers. California obtained this figure by combining 55 of its 58 contiguous counties, which otherwise California would not meet the requirements for SNAP waiver eligibility.

California’s waiver will apply next month in September, meanwhile, California has a 4.2 percent unemployment rate as of July 2018. If California did not have an exemption for its work requirements, more Californians would be incentivized to seek employment or education to continue receiving SNAP benefits.

The House-passed Farm bill contains a provision that would allow Agriculture Sectrary Sonny Perdue to eliminate the applicability of combining jurisdictions to obtain higher unemployment figures for their food stamp waivers, and thus, deny California from exempting its citizens of the SNAP work requirement.

On page 273 of the House Farm bill, the legislation reads:

 ‘‘(iii) LIMIT ON COMBINING JURISDICTIONS.—In carrying out clause (i), the 18 Secretary may waive the applicability of 19 subparagraph (B) only to a State or indi20 vidual jurisdictions within a State, except in the case of combined jurisdictions that are designated as Labor Market Areas by 23 the Department of Labor.

States such as California continue to twist their unemployment data to continue to exempt their citizens from SNAP work requirements. Democrats and leftist media pundits have argued for years that the House-passed Farm bill’s work requirements are unnecessary because the SNAP program already contains work requirements, however, as exemplified by California’s waiver, many states can frequently avoid food stamp work requirements through loopholes.

The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) found that 35 percent of Americans live in an area with no SNAP work requirements. California, Illinois, New York, and Louisiana are some of the most notable states without SNAP work requirements.

Congress needs to pass a Farm bill before September 30 or else the Farm bill programs will expire. The House and the Senate continue to meet in a conference committee to reconcile the current differences between the two chambers’ respective bills, particularly because the Senate Farm bill did not have SNAP work requirements and legislation that close SNAP work requirement loopholes.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in July that the final Farm bill will likely not have work requirements for the SNAP program.

House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway (R-TX), who drafted the House Farm bill, told Breitbart News that he plans to continue making the case for SNAP work requirements in the final bill.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) called for work requirements to be in the final Farm bill in a statement to Breitbart News in July.

“If you’re an able-bodied adult, you should have to work to receive taxpayer money,” Jordan said in a statement to Breitbart News. “It will help get people out of welfare, off of the cycle of dependency, and to a better position in life. Welfare reform needs to stay in the final Farm Bill.”

Robert Doar, a poverty scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), wrote an op-ed in June that work requirements for food stamps will help “fight poverty at its roots.”

Congressman Warren Davidson (R-OH) told Breitbart News in an interview in July, “I hope the president makes it clear that he’s not going to sign a [Farm] bill that does not include work requirements.”

A poll from FGA found that Americans across the political spectrum highly approve of SNAP work requirements.

FGA found that more than 82 percent of Americans, including 94 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of Democrats, support work requirements for food stamp recipients.

President Donald Trump tweeted in August that he hopes that the final Farm bill will include work requirements.

Trump wrote, “When the House and Senate meet on the very important Farm Bill – we love our Farmers – hopefully they will be able to leave the WORK REQUIREMENTS FOR FOOD STAMPS PROVISION that the House approved. Senate should go to 51 votes!”

President Trump also contended that the Senate should switch to a 51 vote majority to pass legislation, such as the Farm bill, through Congress’ upper chamber. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to switch to a simple majority vote to pass the legislation, President Trump can threaten to veto the Farm bill to encourage Congress to include work requirements for SNAP should Congress fail to pass a Farm bill with work requirements.

President Trump promised to transform America’s welfare programs and reduce American dependency on welfare during his inaugural address.

President Trump said in January 2017, “We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”


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