Commentary

Successful woman who once received food aid decries NC’s cuts to SNAP program

There’s a great op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer highlighting North Carolina’s shameful recent decision to slash food assistance benefits (aka “SNAP”).

Jessica Murrell, who once relied on SNAP/Food Stamps during a rough patch in her life, explains:

“I never thought that I would find myself in need of SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. After successfully graduating from college with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology, I was sure I would have a job in the bag.

Unfortunately, that was not my story. When I graduated in December 2007, I was also five months pregnant, and let’s just say the economy was at its worst since the 1930s. I needed a temporary lift until I could find work, and SNAP was a true lifesaver. Being able to receive help from Medicaid and SNAP allowed me to deliver a beautiful baby girl and provide the nutrition she needed as a breast-feeding mother.”

In other words, the program worked just as it was intended to. Now Murrell is a successful professional and worried that loads of potentially hungry people will not get the help she did:

“I’m deeply concerned about cuts to the program that will lead to greater food insecurity throughout our state, harming not only individuals but also local economies. Over the course of 2016, more than 100,000 North Carolinians are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits because of a provision that limits the length of time an adult without children is allowed to receive food assistance while out of work. Waivers have allowed some of our very poor neighbors who live in communities with weak labor markets to receive SNAP and weather the economic downturn, but state lawmakers permanently banned such waivers after July, and everyone faces a three-month limit.

Though the economy has certainly improved, there are still scores of men and women unable to find stable employment despite their best efforts. Of the state’s 100 counties, 89 have more people looking for work than available job openings. Eliminating the SNAP waiver will not create opportunities but will only increase economic hardship for some of our poorest neighbors.”

She’s right, of course. As analyst Tazra Mitchell explained in this space a couple weeks ago, last year’s mean-spirited SNAP cuts in North Carolina are all but sure to create thousands more hungry people in our state. These people want to work, but literally can’t find jobs or even volunteer opportunities.

The bottom line: Despite their assurances that they want more North Carolinians to work their way out of poverty like Ms. Murrell, the actions of our state leaders all but guarantee that more people will remain mired in poverty. In other words, the SNAP cuts are a matter of “business as usual” for North Carolina’s conservative political leadership.

 

NC Budget and Tax Center

SNAP time limit is problematic because there are too few jobs, not too few people willing to work

Most non-disabled, childless adults on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) who can work do so, according to new analysis published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — an important finding given that the harsh three-month time limit for SNAP returns for this population in North Carolina over the course of 2016. More than 100,000 of the state’s poorest adults could be cut off SNAP if they can’t find a job, job-training program, or volunteer opportunity for 20 hours per week.

Due to federal law, the time limit returned for 23 of North Carolina’s 100 counties last month. The remaining 77 counties qualified for a year-long waiver due to a very weak labor market but the Governor and legislature permanently banned state waivers after July 2016. Now, the three-month time limit is returning at least six months sooner for those 77 counties, potentially harming very poor adults who are doing their best to get by in a weak economy.

Lawmakers supporting the ban and voluntary re-implementation of the time limit claimed that the policy change would encourage people to find a job or an education opportunity. Yet, the Center’s new report shows that claim is rooted in misunderstanding. Most childless adults on SNAP are in fact strongly attached to the labor force and they stay on assistance for shorter periods of time compared to the average participant.

Among the key findings in the Center’s report include: Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

With the start of the New Year, some will lose food aid across parts of North Carolina

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. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Childless jobless workers will face additional barriers to put food on the table

The September local employment numbers highlight the persistent jobs challenge that North Carolina faces. At a time when local economies across North Carolina continue to experience the realities of an uneven recovery that has yet to return to pre-recession conditions, Governor McCrory will likely sign a bill today that will further negatively impact our state’s workers and families.

The expected signing of HB 318 means that the time limit on food assistance will go into effect  for 77 counties that qualify for a waiver due to weak labor market conditions. This could result in up to 105,000 childless North Carolinians losing food assistance, driving up demand at local pantries and holding back consumer spending in local groceries.

The latest labor market data show just how damaging the timing of HB 318 could be. All but one metropolitan area and the overwhelming majority of North Carolina’s 100 counties still have more people looking for work than before the economic collapse in 2007. This trend highlights the persistent jobs challenge North Carolina faces – more people desire to work than are jobs available to meet this demand for employment.

“There is a persistent narrative when assessing local labor market conditions in North Carolina. The recovery has been uneven and is bypassing a lot of people who live in both rural and urban areas,” said Cedric Johnson, Policy Analyst at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “In light of the labor market news, it is still clear that there are too few jobs for all who want to work in North Carolina.  Moreover, there are also too few skills training opportunities for those who seek retraining for new careers.”

Key findings from the county data include:

  • Only 22 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have reached the 5 percent threshold for unemployment that many economists view as full employment.
  • The number of people looking for work is still higher in 81 counties than it was before the recession.
  • 65 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have not gotten back to pre-recession levels of employment.
  • 16 counties actually lost jobs over the last year.

Key findings from the metropolitan data include:

  • 8 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas have added jobs since the start of the Great Recession. However, the number of people looking for work has grown much faster in every metropolitan area except one (Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton) during that period.
  • In 14 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas, the increase in the number of people looking for work is more than 20 percent higher than pre-recession levels.
  • Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton is the only metro area to experience a decline in labor force (2.8 percent), number of employed workers (2.8), and number of workers looking for work (3 percent) since the start of the Great Recession.
NC Budget and Tax Center

Restricting food assistance ignores the economic facts on the ground

The General Assembly used a few of the last hours of the 2015 session to cut back how long unemployed North Carolinians in economically distressed counties can receive food assistance. Even though this weeks’ labor market data show that 9 out of 10 counties have more out of work people than job openings, the new rule would cut unemployed people off regardless of how hard it is to find work. The change could take food off more than 100,000 tables across North Carolina, and will pull money out of already struggling local economies, a doubly bad deal.

The one-sentence provision in the ratified bill (see section 16.a) permanently prevents the state from seeking to extend food assistance for people who can’t find work in their local economies, except in times of emergency. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows states to temporarily waive a three-month time limit for unemployed childless adults who live in areas where few jobs are available.77 waiver counties - Updated for Blog Post

Recognizing that cutting off food aid to areas where there aren’t enough jobs hurts entire local economies, North Carolina sought this waiver for 77 of our 100 counties earlier this year. If the Governor signs this measure and SB119 into law, the ban on the waiver would go into effect in July 2016. Without the modest support of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), between 85,000 and 105,000 North Carolinians would be subject to the three month-time limit and potentially will not be able to purchase food at their local grocery stores, depressing consumer demand further and driving use of food banks already stretched to capacity. Read more