Work Hours Tracking is a Solution in Search of a Problem

I’ve been with Empower Missouri nearly 4 years now, and since I started every legislative session we work against work hour tracking for SNAP. It feels almost like a bad cartoon at this point, as we go ‘round and ‘round on the same issue: Work Requirements. On the surface it may sound good, individuals who can work should work, that helps us all have a thriving community. However policy proposals like this miss the mark. Households in Missouri who receive SNAP do work, and already provide proof of that employment when they periodically re-certify with DSS. 

This week, as part of a marathon day for Empower Missouri in Jefferson City, we offered testimony against HB 2156. This bill will increase the burden to show proof of work hour tracking for households receiving Supplemental Nutritional Access Program to meet their food needs. Extra red tape and bureaucracy never improves the function of an assistance program, and basic human survival shouldn’t be rationed to save federal resources.

Work hour tracking is a burdensome solution in search of a problem. SNAP recipients in Missouri already work, 42% are in working households, 37% are elderly or disabled, and 71% have children. The federal government has work requirements built into the SNAP program, which Missouri enforces. Households have to show that they are working and how much they are earning each time they re-certify for assistance, usually every 6 months. There are provisions against quitting a job without cause and requirements that recipients must report income changes to the department in a timely manner. There are exceptions for households with young children or disabilities, but most households receiving SNAP in Missouri also have earned income from a job. 

Often the sponsors of these types of bills want to talk about the elusive ABAWD (Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents) who are unemployed. These individuals are already limited in Missouri; they can only receive 3 months of SNAP benefits unless they become employed or voluntarily participate in an Employment and Training (E&T) program sponsored by the state. E&T programs can be a good way to move people into stable employment; providing training, transportation, uniforms, and more. E&T is open to all SNAP recipients, but the program has been so underfunded that it is difficult for individuals in poverty to access it, especially in rural parts of the state. 

Increasing work hour reporting would require the state to invest significantly in the current E&T programs. The federal government allows states to implement more harsh work hour tracking, however it (rightfully) requires a robust E&T program which can meet the need. The state is responsible to pay for these services, and when we require households with young children to comply (as these bills often do), E&T is federally required to pay for additional services, including transportation and childcare. These services must be readily accessible in every county– and this is something that Missouri’s woefully understaffed and underfunded Department of Social Services simply doesn’t have the capacity to provide. 

In addition, FSD acknowledges that if these new work hour tracking requirements were implemented, it is highly likely that many households who do comply with the requirements are likely to be removed from eligibility in error or because of issues with the reporting system. In fact there is already an issue with this happening, before the increased reporting requirements. Before placing extra burdens on households in poverty, the state should be able to demonstrate their ability to effectively administer the program. 

Finally, if Missouri really wanted to decrease the number of households who are able to adequately meet their own food needs, we should take a serious look at wages. Missouri is slowly building up to a $12 minimum wage, which still will not be enough to move families out of poverty. Single parents earning $12 will still be eligible for SNAP, especially any single parents with multiple children. These same parents are not able to find a one bedroom rental home in Missouri that would be affordable to them.

The bottom line is work hour tracking legislation like proposed in HB 2156 will cost the state a lot of resources to implement. As the fiscal note indicates, the benefits all come from federal resources, so there is no state offset from a fiscal standpoint. We will spend state money to decrease resources which will be spent in the local economy at grocery stores and farmers markets. We would spend state money to remove life sustaining nutrition from the tables of our children across the state. There is no upside to this kind of policy, only increased hunger and suffering for our neighbors who struggle the most.

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