“Nebraskans want to make sure that assistance goes to folks who need it most and that federal policy encourages meaningful work.”

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse led a group of fourteen Senators urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and update regulations governing state waivers. 

Senator Sasse was joined by Senators John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst, Jim Inhofe, Ron Johnson, John Kennedy, James Lankford, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Thom Tillis, Pat Toomey, and Todd Young. 

"Nebraskans want to make sure that assistance goes to folks who need it most and that federal policy encourages meaningful work,” said Senator Sasse afterward. “We’re asking the Secretary of Agriculture to work to ensure that SNAP serves our neighbors’ needs while still promoting a pathway to work."

The full text of the letter can be found below or by clicking here.

Dear Secretary Perdue: 

We write to urge you to review and update the regulations governing state waivers for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure work requirements are applied as Congress intended. The current regulations allowing states to exempt ABAWDs from time limits and work requirements are too broad and do not meet the congressional intent of encouraging able-bodied Americans to get back to work. 

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 limit the amount of time an ABAWD can receive SNAP benefits unless the individual is working at least 80 hours per month, participating in a qualified education or workforce training program, or complying with a state-run workfare program. Under current USDA regulation, states can apply for waivers exempting ABAWDs from time limits and work requirements in two ways: 1) a state can request a waiver of ABAWD time limit and work requirements for an area that has an unemployment rate of 10 percent or does not have a sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for individuals (time limit waiver), or 2) a state agency may exempt up to 15 percent of ABAWDs who would otherwise be subject to time limit and work requirements, if the individual’s work requirements have not already been waived by a time limit waiver (15 percent exemption).

Furthermore, states have significant latitude to include areas with lower unemployment rates and to design the geographic waivers such that the entire state’s SNAP population is exempt from federal work requirements. While both the time limit waiver and the 15 percent exemption allow states to tailor their SNAP programs to suit the needs of their citizens, we are deeply concerned that both of these tools, as they are being applied, undermine the work requirements Congress explicitly applied to ABAWDs receiving SNAP benefits, making work requirements effectively meaningless. In 2018, 36 states and territories were approved for statewide or partial ABAWD time limit waivers. In areas of states that are not covered by these time limit waivers, states can still use 15 percent exemptions for ABAWDs to exempt specific individuals from work requirements. These 15 percent exemptions do not expire and states can carry over unused exemptions indefinitely, which may result in more than 15 percent of ABAWDs being exempt from work requirements. Both categories of waivers often extend for years beyond the initial lag in employment opportunities, with many able-bodied adult beneficiaries receiving SNAP benefits for years without ever looking for work. 

Work is good for individuals. It provides self-sufficiency, dignity, and opportunity. Evidence in Kansas and Maine indicates that reinstating work requirements for ABAWDs correlated with people returning to work and improving their circumstances. In Kansas, after the first year of reinstating work requirements for ABAWDs, the Foundation for Government Accountability found that 60 percent of individuals no longer receiving SNAP benefits found employment within 12 months and their incomes rose by 127 percent that year. In Maine, after the first year of reinstating work requirements for ABAWDs, the Maine Office of Policy and Management found that the ABAWDs closed out for non-compliance experienced a 114 percent increase in total wages from the third quarter of 2014 to the fourth quarter of 2015. Those ABAWDs who complied with the work requirement rule experienced a 20 percent increase in total wages through the same period. It is clear that, for all who are able, work should be encouraged.

We applaud that the USDA has already solicited comments about requirements and services for ABAWDs in SNAP. We encourage you to continue working to reform the state waiver process and to ensure SNAP fulfills its goal of providing food security for vulnerable citizens while also providing a pathway to meaningful, productive, sustaining work.

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse
U.S. Senator John Kennedy
U.S. Senator Thom Tillis
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe
U.S. Senator John Cornyn 
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senator James Lankford 
U.S. Senator Mike Lee 
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst 
U.S. Senator Todd Young 
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz 
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson 
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey 
U.S. Senator Tim Scott