Thanks in large part to President Donald Trump’s deregulation, economic and tax policies, combined with increased confidence among U.S. businesses, the unemployment rate in America has hit exceptionally low levels as more businesses are hiring and more people are going back to work.
In conjunction with the increased rate of working Americans has been a decline in the number of Americans enrolled in the food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
But according to The Washington Free Beacon, there is one state — California — where, despite the low unemployment rate of 4.2 percent , there has not been a similar decline in SNAP enrollment, largely because the state managed to massage their statistics in order to take advantage of a loophole in the law that requires some SNAP recipients to get a job if they wish to continue receiving benefits.
Indeed, California recently applied for and received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that exempted 55 of the state’s 58 counties from SNAP’s work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents, a development that allows roughly 800,000 such recipients to remain on the rolls without their eligibility being questioned or revoked.
The SNAP work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents — referred to as ABAWDs — have been part of the law since 1996, and can only receive benefits for more than 3 months within 3 years if they work at least 80 hours per month, are enrolled in school or a training program or are in compliance with state-run unpaid “workfare” programs, according to the USDA.
However, the law allows for states to seek waivers that exempt some or all of their state’s recipients from the requirements, such as during tough economic times, or when the state’s unemployment rate is significantly higher than the national average or there are too few jobs available.
As an aside, the waivers were consistently granted to virtually all who applied throughout the Obama years, even after the economic recession had passed and unemployment rates began to decline below the law’s thresholds. The Trump administration has taken a dimmer view of the work requirement waivers, though it appears that California still managed to cleverly obtain one, as will be shown.
The Free Beacon further explained that in order to qualify for a waiver in the absence of an economic downturn, a state must show that certain counties have an unemployment rate higher than 10 percent or more than 20 percent higher than the national average over a two-year period.
But some of the counties in California that just received a waiver on work requirements until August 2019 have unemployment rates lower than the national average — take for example the 2.7 percent rate in Marin County, which is lower than the 3.9 percent national rate — and only two of the waived counties have an unemployment rate higher than 10 percent.
However, those pesky facts didn’t matter to California, as they took advantage of a loophole in the law that allows them to lump together contiguous counties for a combined rate — such as combing a county with 5 percent rate with a neighboring county that has a 15 percent rate to equal a 10 percent rate — a tactic that raised the combined unemployment rate to more than 20 percent higher than the national average.
But that rate must be consistent over a two-year period — which states have some flexibility in setting — so California submitted their request to receive a waiver prior to the start of the 2018 fiscal year in October 2017, which allowed them to set the two-year period as beginning in 2015 rather than 2016 and gave them a 20 percent higher unemployment rate than the national average as the Trump economic boom hadn’t hit yet.
Thus, through the manipulation of combining 55 contiguous counties and starting their timeline in 2015 — starting it in 2016 would only give them a 14 percent higher average — California managed to downplay their prosperous growth over the past year alongside the rest of the country and portray themselves as lagging behind the curve in terms of unemployment, which succeeded in garnering them a waiver from the work requirements.
So while businesses and the economy are booming across the country — and that holds true for California as much as any other state — the state government has in essence protected their SNAP-enrolled able-bodied adults without dependents from having to get a job or go to school, and is basically enabling them to continue mooching off the system unnecessarily.
It is worth noting that the Trump administration has called on Congress to tighten up the rules surrounding work requirements for welfare programs, and it appears that Congress has listened, to an extent.
The House has already addressed the loophole exploited by California in their version of the 2018 farm bill, which has already passed and does away with the contiguous county average scheme, limiting states to apply only for the entire state or individual counties. The Senate has passed their own version of the farm bill as well, though it didn’t address this work requirement issue.
Those two differing bills must now be reconciled in a conference committee, and it will be interesting to see if House Republicans can emerge victorious on this issue and close the loophole that California exploited to protect their ABAWDs from having to actually get off their butts and get a job to maintain their SNAP eligibility.
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