Study: Number of 'able-bodied' adults on food stamps doubled after stimulus change

A new government study found that the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps nearly doubled after Washington used the stimulus law to lift a key work requirement.

The report from the Congressional Research Service was sent last week to House Republican Leader Eric Cantor. It comes as House Republicans prepare Thursday to try and block a separate work requirement waiver being sought by the Obama administration for welfare recipients.

The CRS study dealt with the work requirement for a particular class of food-stamp recipients -- "able-bodied adults" between 18 and 49 years old who have no dependents. Typically the food stamp program requires that group to work or participate in a training program at least 20 hours a week to continue receiving benefits after three months. The stimulus law, though, allowed states to suspend the rule from April 2009 to October 2010 -- and most states did.

In that time, the number in that group surged.

The CRS study showed that in fiscal 2010, the last year for which data was available, the number of food-stamp recipients in that group was at nearly 3.9 million. That's up from 1.9 million in 2008.

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Though food-stamp enrollment was already rising at the time in part due to the recession, the study noted the number in this group "increased more rapidly than the overall caseload."

Their percentage of that caseload grew from 6.9 percent in 2008 to 9.7 percent in 2010.

The total number of people on food stamps -- formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- has grown to 47 million this year, with the "able-bodied" group making up just a fraction of that.

The findings of the CRS, report, though, feed Republican concerns that lifting work requirements can encourage benefit recipients to simply stay in the programs.

The separate proposed change in the work requirement for welfare was announced in July by the Department of Health and Human Services. The department said the states may seek a waiver from the work component in order to "test alternative and innovative strategies, policies and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families."

HHS stressed that any alternative should still aim to get welfare recipients into gainful employment. Any plan that "appears substantially likely to reduce access to assistance or employment for needy families," will not be approved, the memo said.

But Republicans accused the administration of going too far, claiming the move would "gut" the work requirement from the landmark Clinton-era welfare reform package.

The latest CRS report noted that while the stimulus law lifted the food stamp work requirement until late 2010, the law allowing extended unemployment benefits likewise allowed most states to waive those work requirements in 2011 and 2012. Statistics were not available, though, for that population during those two years.