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Change to federal food assistance program could affect recipients

A change to eligibility for federal food assistance could affect hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans.

Able bodied people ages 18 to 49 without dependents, who work fewer than 20 hours a week, can only receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for up to three months in a three-year period.

The Trump administration wants to eliminate counties’ ability to bypass that three-month limit, saying tighter work requirements are needed to make people self-sufficient.

But attorney Nolan Downey, with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, says SNAP supports finding work.

“SNAP is really helping people to meet their nutritional needs so that they can focus on getting a job, and focus on getting out there and participating in employment activities,” he points out.

Waivers allowing counties to bypass the three-month limit are given to states where unemployment rates are higher than 10 percent, or more than 20 percent above the national average.

Currently, that includes all but one of Illinois’s 102 counties. The state estimates more than 400,000 adults who fall into the waiver parameters will receive at least one month of benefits this year and could be affected by this rule down the line.

Downey notes that half of adult SNAP recipients are working, although the jobs might be part-time.

He calls hunger an all-encompassing issue and says if folks are spending money on food, that takes away from funds for things like transportation or materials needed to get a job.

“If all the expendable income – what little that they have – is going toward meeting their most basic food needs, then the idea of having them going out and finding a job on top of that is extremely daunting, and a lot of times impossible for folks, especially in rural communities,” he states.

Public comments on the proposed change are being accepted until April 2.

— From Public News Service

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