North Carolina is the fifth hungriest state in the nation. Yet, the state Senate gave tentative approval to a bill that unnecessarily restricts food aid for childless adults who are very poor and live in areas where jobs are scarce—regardless of how hard they are looking for work.
States can temporarily suspend work-related time-limits on federal food aid for areas with sustained high levels of unemployment. North Carolina officials applied for a waiver in July for 77 of the state’s 100 counties due to a severe lack of jobs available that hampers North Carolinians’ ability to meet the work requirements (see map below). The Senate measure, however, would permanently ban the state from pursuing this option irrespective of how local economies are faring or whether employment and training opportunities actually exist.
Between 85,000 and 105,000 unemployed childless adults in North Carolina would lose food aid in 2016 because they can’t find a job if legislators prohibit the Governor’s administration from seeking a new waiver.*
In the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), there is a three-month limit on benefits for childless adults aged 18-50 who have a disability or aren’t raising children. There is no time limit for adults who work 20 hours a week, participate in a qualified job training program for 20 hours a week, or in workfare. Meeting those job requirements is especially difficult in an economic downturn and its aftermath—or in areas that have historically faced persistently high unemployment levels. States do not have to offer a job or training opportunity—and most states, like North Carolina, do not.
That is why there is a waiver option but states have to meet a very high bar to qualify. The ban in the Senate measure, however, means that North Carolina cannot move forward with the waiver request for which the state qualifies.
The bottom line is SNAP, along with unemployment insurance, is our nation’s primary response to widespread economic hardship and a worsening labor market. Permanently barring the state from even having the option to provide food assistance to unemployed childless adults during times of high unemployment would be a complete policy failure.
*Special data request to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. September 2015.