About 10% of the country’s 47 million food stamp recipients are able bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD).

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) suspended the requirement that ABAWDs must hold down a job to be eligible for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. From 2009 through 2012, more than 40 states received waivers from this mandate (see p. 11).

Fully 37 states qualify to have their waivers extended through this year, but 17 states plan to reinstate work requirements, according to Stateline’s Jake Grovum:

…work requirements will be back in place for able-bodied adults who are 18 to 50 years old and have no children. It’s possible the requirements will return in more than 17 states, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t yet have a full count, even though states were supposed to report their plans by Labor Day. …

Typically, low-income, able-bodied adults without children can receive food stamps for only three months in a three-year period, unless they are working or participating in a training or “workfare” program for at least 20 hours a week.  …

…states, such as Kansas, Oklahoma, and Utah, reinstated work requirements over the course of the past year despite being eligible for at least partial waivers. Ohio, New York, Texas and Wisconsin all waived the work requirements for only part of the year or in certain areas of their states, even though they were eligible to waive the requirements statewide. …

This coming year, just 35 states and the District of Columbia are eligible to waive the work requirement. … At least two of the states eligible for waivers this year, Maine and New Mexico, have said they plan to enforce the requirements anyway, but more could decide to join them, as pressure to reinstate the requirements has grown.

Hunger advocates are concerned that food banks could be overwhelmed. But as my IWF colleague Krista Kafer argued last year when her home state of Colorado was debating reinstating work requirements:

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, once said, "The issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it, but what it costs those who receive it." Giving free food to an able-bodied adult for years without work requirements harms that person's motivation, self-esteem, and dignity. Job searches are brutal on the ego, and government programs can act as a disincentive to keep on trying, ultimately delaying the satisfaction and self-respect that comes from earning a paycheck. …

Is it not a slap in the face to people who work hard, thankless jobs to support those who don't work?

Ben Franklin said it best: "I am for doing good to the poor, but … I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed … that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer."

The food stamps reform bill is far more compassionate than the status quo.

If the federal government really wants to help those in need, reduce the overall tax burden on businesses so they can expand and hire more employees. The work of corporate and philanthropic charities offering food assistance and job training should also be encouraged to meet the unique needs of their communities.

And individuals should not rely on government to solve social problems such as poverty and hunger.

In any given neighborhood across the country there are any number of charitable organizations dedicated to helping those in need. Volunteering just a few hours of time can change people’s lives for the better. Most important, becoming involved personally helps reinforce the social and civic bonds that strengthen the fabric of a free society—and that fabric is what distinguishes the United States from centralized socialist states where poverty and hunger are somebody else’s problem.