As many as 1 million Americans will stop receiving food stamps this year, the consequence of a controversial work mandate that took effect this week in 21 states as the economy improves.
The revival of the mandate, which was hotly debated when adopted in the 1990s, is reigniting a discussion among policymakers and advocates for the poor about the fairness and wisdom of the social safety net in the new U.S. economy.
The requirement, which generally stipulates that participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) who do not have children or a disability must find a job within three months of receiving the benefit and work an average of 20 hours a week, was suspended in most states following the mortgage crisis amid widespread unemployment. Now, as jobs have returned, the work mandate was automatically reinstated in many states at the beginning of this year, and the three-month allowance for finding a job ended April 1.
Even where unemployment remains relatively high, some governors have brought back the requirement, saying it encourages people to rejoin the workforce.