Food Justice

Work Requirements Don’t Work

By Ann Sanders

From the White House to the halls of Congress, to Harrisburg and state capitals across the country, many elected officials are promoting work requirements as a way to “move people off of welfare.” And they are right – it will get people off of assistance programs – not because they are working, but because they were booted for “failure to comply.”

Work requirements address a non-issue. These policies are rooted in the idea that people are resting, relaxing on tax dollars – when they ought to be working. This stereotype is wrong. Roughly 80% of people who receive assistance are children, elderly, or have a disability. Most adults who are able to work and who receive assistance are already working or are temporarily between jobs. Benefits such as these support low-income workers, and one in 12 Pennsylvania workers rely on SNAP benefits.

Work requirements just don’t work. Numerous research studies show that people who received assistance and had to comply with a work requirement had little to no long-term increases in earnings over those who did not have to meet a work requirement. But many families in poverty lost basic assistance because they were kicked off the program for not meeting work requirements. These policies don’t work and will put more families at risk.

Work requirements can hurt people who are working. Fluctuating work schedules may lead to a person not meeting fixed weekly work hour requirements. Paperwork requirements can be difficult to fill out and administrative errors in handling paperwork can cause lapses in benefits.

Work requirements can hurt people who are meant to be exempt – including people with disabilities or other serious health conditions. They may not know about their exemption, or may be unable to gather the paperwork to verify their condition. In the end, they would lose their assistance, making it even harder for them to maintain their health and independence.

Work requirements can leave people trapped: if they lose their job because their health deteriorates, they also lose access to treatment. If their hours get cut and money for food is tight, they risk losing their food assistance. Having medical coverage and food on the table helps to stabilize families’ situations, overcome crises, and make it easier to seek and keep a job.

Work requirements do not create new work opportunities. They only create new paperwork requirements. More working adults will have to regularly verify their work hours; more health care providers will have to verify the disability status of patients (assuming those with disabilities haven’t lost access to health care); and state administrators will need to review and process all of that paperwork, at the cost of everyone in need of their assistance. These policies steal away resources from critical human services and make it more likely that processing errors and unwarranted denials of assistance will occur.

What bills contain work requirements?

In Harrisburg: HB 1659 imposes work requirements on some SNAP recipients and HB 2138 imposes work requirements on some Medicaid recipients. Both bills passed the House (on a party-line vote) and are currently in the Senate. Contact your PA State Senator and ask him or her to oppose these bills.

In Congress: The Farm Bill – which authorizes SNAP as well as a host of other food-related policies, is due Sept. 30th. The House version contained massive cuts to SNAP and a huge expansion of work requirements to older adults and parents of children over age 6. There was vote on this bill in May and the bill failed to pass by 18 votes, but a procedural maneuver allowed for the opportunity for a re-vote – HR 2 passed 213-211 (Reps. Doyle, Lamb and Rothfus all voted against it.). The Senate bipartisan version of the Farm Bill was voted on, June 28 and passed 86-11 (Sen. Casey voted for it and Sen. Toomey against it.). No new work requirements are included nor are any cuts to SNAP in the Senate bill.  Now, both bills go to conference and a compromise bill will be hashed out that is again voted on in both the House and Senate. Contact your Senators (Toomey and Casey) and your Representative and urge them to vote against any cuts to SNAP, including work requirements.

White House: President Trump signed an executive order requiring a variety of departments, including Agriculture, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development to review existing waivers and mandates to work requirements and submit recommended policy changes within 90 days. Public comment periods regarding any proposed rule changes have not started yet, but they may come soon.

See Just Harvest’s bill tracker ( for the latest updates on these bills and more legislation that would affect hunger in Allegheny County.


Ann Sanders is the Public Policy Advocate at Just Harvest

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