According to the most recent data, 446,420 Mississippians were on food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in August. In August 2018, that number was 489,938. Mississippi’s 8.8 percent decline was sixth highest nationally, behind only Georgia (14.4%), Indiana (14.1%), Kentucky (11.7%), New Hampshire (11.6%), and Delaware (9.6%).
Over the past several years, Gov. Phil Bryant and the legislature have moved to restore work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults who receive food stamps. This has the bonus effect of moving individuals into work and off dependency, while reducing the taxpayer burden of such programs.
A recently released report by the Foundation for Government Accountability says that work requirements have saved taxpayers $93 million since Bryant restored them in 2015 for able-bodied, childless adults who participated in SNAP.
Food stamp enrollment, according to the report, began to drop immediately in Mississippi and had fallen by 72 percent by October 2018. The drop isn’t unprecedented, as two states, Arkansas (70 percent reduction) and Florida (94 percent) posted similar numbers after instituting similar work requirements for SNAP.
Also, since 2016, the average amount of time spent in the SNAP program for able-bodied recipients in Mississippi has dropped by 60 percent.
The study shows that work requirements have decreased dependency on taxpayers by able-bodied, childless adults. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 85 percent of these adults on food stamps weren’t working at all in Mississippi in 2015.
Those former SNAP recipients received jobs in 716 different industries and only 23 percent of them are still working in entry-level jobs such as fast food or retail. Their incomes grew by 64 percent within three months of leaving welfare.
After a year, those incomes increased by 98 percent within a year and 121 percent for those who’d left the food stamp program 18 months before.
“Conservative policies are working, and Mississippi is continuing to reap the benefits of welfare reform,” Bryant said on Twitter. “After implementation of food stamp work requirements we have seen significant improvements.”
Bryant’s administration launched a study to track results of the work requirements, as the Mississippi Department of Human Services worked with the state Department of Employment Security, the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center at Mississippi State University, and FGA to track wages and the industries entered by former welfare recipients.
Up until the mid-1990s, there had been little effort at the national level to end dependence on welfare.
In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton signed into law the Federal Welfare Reform Act. It transitioned a permanent entitlement program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children to a temporary block grant program known as Temporary Aid to Needy Families or TANF.
The new law also established work requirements for SNAP, which were later watered down as the federal government granted waivers for states to eliminate these rules for some segments of the population.
In 2015, Bryant restored the work requirements by ending the work requirement waiver. Those able-bodied childless adults who met the work requirements could stay on the program, but those who failed the meet the standard were terminated from the program starting in the first quarter of 2016.
More reforms for the state’s welfare system were still to come.
In 2017, Bryant signed into law House Bill 1090, also known as the Act to Restore Hope Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone. Authored by state Rep. Chris Brown (R-Nettleton), the law required eligibility monitoring for Medicaid, TANF, and SNAP and required the state agencies to share eligibility data. It also enshrined the end of the state’s work requirement for SNAP into state law.
It also mandates that state agencies administering welfare programs verify residency and immigration status and bans the use of the EBT cards at ATMs at liquor stores, strip clubs, casinos, and other questionable businesses.
Thirty states still have partial time limit waivers for the food stamp program, while Mississippi is one of 17 states that have no waivers.