For some of North Carolina’s poorest adults living on the edge, the New Year is not bringing cheers or hopeful expectations. For these folks, the year kicked off with the return of a policy that could push them further into material and economic hardship regardless of their efforts to find work.
More than 100,000 of the state’s poorest adults face losing federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits this year due to the return of the harsh three-month time limit for childless, non-disabled adults aged 18-49. These adults will lose their food aid after three months if they can’t find a job, job-training program, or volunteer opportunity for 20 hours per week regardless of labor market and economic conditions in their community.
Last summer, state lawmakers elected to re-implement the time limit statewide even though parts of North Carolina qualify for a waiver this year due to sustained high levels of unemployment. The time limit would have returned this month for 23 of the state’s 100 counties regardless of state action because of an improving economy in those counties. The remaining 77 counties qualified for a year-long waiver but the governor and legislature permanently banned state waivers after July 2016.
This means that some of the poorest adults in the state—whose incomes average $2,200 per year—could be cut off from food aid through no fault of their own as early as April 1st if they reside if one of those 23 counties. While the labor market is slowly improving in some areas of the state, the economic growth is very uneven and significant hardship remains in all of the state’s 100 counties.
For instance, one metropolitan area and most counties in the state still have more people looking for work than before the 2007 economic downturn. The tight labor market makes it difficult for many childless adults to meet the requirements associated with the time limit. No matter how hard they look for a job, if they don’t find one in three months, their food assistance is gone. And lawmakers do not have a plan in place to provide a volunteer position or skills training opportunity to all individuals subject to the time limit.
The three-month time limit already started ticking this month in parts of the state that are plagued by high rates of food hardship. The Greensboro?High Point metropolitan area, for example, ranks as the worst metropolitan statistical area for food hardship out of the top 100 MSAs in the country—and the return of the time limit this month will do nothing to ease hunger in that community. The case is the same for the other three MSAs in the state that face some of the highest levels of food hardship in the nation, including Winston-Salem, Asheville, and Charlotte-Gastonia.
North Carolina is not alone when it comes to a premature return of the time limit. Across the nation, 23 states are choosing or being forced to restore the time limit, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Learn more about the time limit in the Budget & Tax Center’s SNAP Policy Basic and this video from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.