Montana Can Help Feed Thousands But Must Act Soon

Montana has the opportunity to protect and expand Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program) benefits for approximately 5,500 people now through October 1st. This move would help thousands of households put food on the table, while boosting local businesses and Montana’s economy as well.

Harsh time-limits endanger food access for individuals

Under federal regulations, many adult SNAP participants are subject to strict time limits, which results in losing food assistance over a defined period of time for failure to meet certain requirements. Adults between 18-49 without dependents are only able to receive benefits for three out of every 36 months, unless they are employed 20 hours a week or more.

But most people on SNAP who can work, do work. Historically, these time limits have not been shown to expand the number of people on SNAP who are working. Instead, harsh time-limits have only increased hardship and reduced access to food for low-income individuals.

Because many individuals rely on SNAP when they are unable to find work, states have been permitted to waive this three-month time limit in areas of high unemployment or insufficient jobs. This rule has allowed individuals to put food on their tables, even if they are living in areas that haven’t yet recovered economically.

New rule will cause thousands of Montanans to lose their food benefits

But a harsh new rule from the Trump administration will restrict states’ ability to waive this time limit in areas of high unemployment. As a result, thousands of individuals in 33 Montana counties will soon become newly subject to the work requirement.

People in these counties who have been unable to find sufficient work will soon be at risk of losing their food benefits. Many of these people face significant barriers to work – for example, limited education, a lack of transportation, homelessness, or health conditions that make work difficult. Many others do work, but often in jobs with unstable hours. Without SNAP benefits, thousands of Montanans will be forced to choose between affording an adequate diet and paying other household necessities like housing and medicine.

Montana can use discretionary exemptions to help delay the impacts of this harsh new rule

To counteract the severity of SNAP requirements, each year states receive a certain number of discretionary individual exemptions in order to exempt people from the time limit who may not be able to or cannot find work. States have historically been able to roll-over unused exemptions each year. In the past, Montana has used very few of these exemptions and has amassed over 40,000 one-month exemptions.

The state can use this bank of discretionary individual exemptions to delay the devastating impacts of the new rule for thousands of Montanans. In less than six weeks, the new rule from the Trump administration will begin going into effect.

Under the old rule, 38 Montana counties and 7 reservations received waivers exempting them from the time limit due to their high unemployment rates. But on April 1st, most of these counties will lose their waivers, leaving 3,200 individuals in counties with high unemployment rates suddenly subject to the work requirement. If Montana uses its current bank of discretionary exemptions, it can help keep these individuals from suddenly losing their food assistance by extending their benefits through October.

Because Montana has such a significant number of available exemptions, the state could also extend benefits to an additional 2,300 adults living in areas where they are already subject to the work requirement. In total, Montana has accumulated enough exemptions to help 5,500 Montanans put food on their table between now and October.

Unfortunately, the new rule from the Trump administration does more than just impose a strict work requirement on people who have been unable to find sufficient work. The rule also limits’ states ability to carry over its unused exemptions year to year. If Montana does not use these exemptions by October 1st, they will be gone.

SNAP prevents hunger and boosts the economy

SNAP benefits are essential for these impacted individuals. For many adults without minor children, SNAP is the only federal assistance they are able to access. And while these dollars are used to help households put food on the table, they also benefit local stores, farmers, and our state’s economy as a whole.

SNAP generates $1.80 in economic activity for every $1 spent. The $5.6 million in SNAP benefits Montana would bring in by using its available exemptions could help generate $9.9 million in economic activity across the state.

Montana can help feed thousands of struggling individuals

Ultimately, this new rule change, which will result in thousands of Montanans losing their basic food assistance, will do nothing to help them find or keep a job. Instead, it will only serve to push people deeper into financial distress and food insecurity.

But Montana can help delay the devastating impact of the Trump administration’s harsh rule change. Thousands of Montanans who are at risk of hunger will benefit from the state’s use of its bank of discretionary exemptions. Doing so will help struggling individuals across the state put food on their tables – at least through October.

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