Food Stamp Bonanza

Waiver of work requirement led to spike in enrollment in food stamp program, congressional study finds

Wikimedia Commons
September 19, 2012

The Obama administration’s waiver of work requirements for food stamps led to a marked increase in participation in the program, a report by the Congressional Research Service has found.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus, allowed able-bodied adults without children to remain in the food stamp program without meeting the required 20-hour work-week, in some cases using regulatory authority to work around congressional and state restrictions on the practice, according to a write-up of the CRS report by Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service obtained by the Washington Examiner suggests that the administration’s suspension of a separate welfare work requirement has already helped explode the number of able-bodied Americans on food stamps.

In addition to the broader work requirement that has become a contentious issue in the presidential race, the 1996 welfare reform law included a separate rule encouraging able-bodied adults without dependents to work by limiting the amount of time they could receive food stamps. President Obama suspended that rule when he signed his economic stimulus legislation into law, and the number of these adults on food stamps doubled, from 1.9 million in 2008 to 3.9 million in 2010, according to the CRS report, issued in the form of a memo to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. …

[The] doubling of the use of food stamps by the able-bodied population without dependents exceeded the 43 percent increase in food stamp usage among the broader population over the same 2008 to 2010 time frame. This gives more weight to the idea that the waiver fueled the food stamp growth among the population it affected, beyond where it would have been even in a weak economy.

U.S. relief programs have been central to the 2012 campaign. Earlier this year the Obama administration issued state waivers to work requirements for welfare recipients. Obama has insisted that the waivers would only be issued to states that demonstrated a 20 percent work increase.

However, the Romney campaign claims the president worked around Congress to "gut welfare reform" because the waivers would allow states to ease standards for what qualifies as work.