Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2000. Recent Legislative and Regulatory Changes

03/01/2000

Title IV and Subtitle A of title VIII of the PRWORA contains major and extensive revisions to the Food Stamp Program, including strong work requirements on able-bodied adults without children, restricted benefits for legal immigrants, and a reduction in maximum benefits.  These three provisions, and subsequent amendments, are discussed below; their impact on program participation and expenditures begins to appear in food stamp administrative data for 1997, with the fuller impact shown in data for 1998.

First, a new work requirement was added for able-bodied adult food stamp recipients without dependents (ABAWDs).  Unless exempt, ABAWDs between the ages of 18 and 50 are not eligible for benefits for more than 3 months in every 36-month period unless they are (1) working at least 20 hours a week; (2) participating in and complying with a work program for at least 20 hours a week; or (3) participating in and complying with a workfare program.  Under the original legislation, the Department of Agriculture was authorized to waive application of the work requirement to any group of individuals at the request of the state agency, if a determination is made that the area where they reside has an unemployment rate over 10 percent or does not have a sufficient number of jobs to provide them employment.  The provision was further moderated under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-33), which allowed states to exempt up to 15 percent of the ABAWD caseload (beyond those subject to waivers) and which increased funds for the Food Stamp employment and training program for the creation of job slots for the able-bodied.

Separately, title IV of PRWORA made significant changes in the eligibility of noncitizens for Food Stamp benefits.  As first enacted, most qualified aliens (including legal immigrants — illegal aliens are already ineligible) were barred from Food Stamps until citizenship.  Subsequently, the Agriculture Research, Extension and Education Reform Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-185] restored food stamp eligibility to certain groups of qualified aliens who were legally residing in the United States before passage of PRWORA (August 22, 1996).  Specifically, the ban on food stamp eligibility was lifted for children, the disabled and people who were 65 on August 22, 1996.

Finally, the 1996 legislation restrained growth in future program expenditures by making changes in the benefit structure for eligible participants, including a reduction in the maximum food stamp allotment.  Other provisions of the 1996 act disqualified from eligibility those convicted of drug-related felonies and gave states the option to disqualify individuals, both custodial and noncustodial parents, from food stamps when they do not cooperate with child support agencies or are in arrears in their child support.

Recent regulatory changes also could affect the Food Stamp Program.  In July 1999, President Clinton announced a series of executive actions designed to increase access to food stamps among working poor families.  The initiative included regulatory changes to make it easier for working families to report income changes and to own a car and still qualify for food stamps, and a new public education campaign supports states' and localities' efforts to serve this population.  These changes were intended to address concerns that some of the decline in food stamp caseloads may be leaving poor families without nutritional assistance as they make the transition from welfare dependence to full self-sufficiency.

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"Chapter II . Indicators of Dependence" (pdf, 159.54Kb)

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"Chapter III. Predictors and Risk Factors Associated with Welfare Receipt" (pdf, 228.15Kb)

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