Improving Economy Means Fewer Food Stamps for Low-Income Utahns

May 21, 2012

Low-income adults in Utah without children will soon find their food stamp benefits being cut short as the state moves back to pre-recession policies.

Bill Tibbits, Associate Director of Crossroads Urban Center, says it's disappointing that the Department of Workforce Services, which works closely with low-income Utahns is penalizing food-stamp recipients for not being able to find work.

“It's hard for ordinary people to find work. For people who are at the bottom of the employability scale it's as bad as it's ever been.”

Tibbits says there are still plenty of people who are homeless or have limited skill-sets that still can't find a job.

“We can only serve people 6 times in 12 months. We're set up to help people with emergencies. We're not set up to help people with on-going need.”

Welfare reform in the 1990s required able-bodied  adults without dependents to work at least 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamps for more than 3 months in a 3 year period, except during periods of high unemployment.

So, for the duration of the economic downtown, Utah and other states suspended those rules, allowing adults to continue to receive benefits for 6 months at a time. Now, despite the federal government's ruling that the state still qualifies for a waiver, the Department of Workforce Services has chosen to opt out.

Tibbets says Utah is not even applying for a waiver for individual counties with high unemployment, including Wayne and San Juan, which both remain above 10%. He says that's unprecedented.

“We've always recognized in the past that there were some counties where unemployment was extra high and it wasn't fair to say your county has a 15 percent unemployment rate, but we're going to act like everybody can find work.”

Department of Workforce Services Spokesman Curt Stewart reminds those who are concerned about losing food stamp benefits that meeting work participation requirements means your benefits will be restored.

“Those participation requirements must be met each month after they receive their 3 months of food stamps. That includes working with an employment counselor, looking for work.”

Stewart also says the upcoming change should not come as a shock to the community.

“This is the way we ran this program years ago when we had it and it was suspended. And we feel that with the economy improving we can really case-manage these customers than we will be able to get them back to work.”

The rule will go into effect October 1st. But the change will be phased in, so people who are already on food stamps will still receive their 6-month allotment. At the end of that period they'll get a notice saying they're only eligible to receive food stamps for 3 months out of the next 3 years unless they meet the work requirements.