It seems like a simple enough concept — you work to eat.
For nearly all of human history that has been the driving force behind the labor of individuals and the collective labor of communities and societies. Over the past couple of centuries, at least in the developed nations of the world, working has become something people often do to afford a bigger house, a better car, the latest game system, but for most of human history everyone worked simply to eat and provide other basic necessities for themselves and their families.
Thus, we find it somewhat puzzling the hue and cry that has come about because the General Assembly passed a law which requires able-bodied adults who have no children in their homes to work in order to receive food stamp benefits — known today as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The new state regulation goes into effect July 1, 2016.
Of course, “work” has a somewhat liberal definition for this measure, meaning either being employed for at least 20 hours a week, involved in a jobs retraining program of at least 20 hours per week, or volunteering in approved programs for at least 20 hours weekly. Anyone failing to meet these requirements will have their SNAP benefits terminated after 90 days, and can only begin receiving them once they have met the requirement for a 30-day period.
In reality, this requirement has been on the books since 1996, when the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, more commonly known as the 1996 welfare reform law, was voted into existence. After the recession of 2008, the federal government allowed states to request waivers for counties that had high levels of unemployment — which has been most of North Carolina. Even today, 77 of the state’s 100 counties qualify for this exemption. According to NC Policy Watch, there are still several counties in North Carolina that have more jobless residents than available jobs listed through the North Carolina Employment Commission.
Still, we have no problem with the concept of someone being required to either work, volunteer, or be actively engaged in a jobs training program in order to received SNAP benefits. Remember, we’re talking homes with no children, and we’re speaking of individuals who have no significant health problems.
That’s not to say we don’t have some issues with the manner in which this was passed, or some of the particulars within the bill.
As has become a deplorable custom in North Carolina, this bill was tacked onto another, unrelated one aimed at forcing all businesses in North Carolina to use the federal E-Verify system to curb the employment of illegal immigrants in the state. It seems that the most controversial bills, or the ones that often affect North Carolinians on a daily basis in their everyday lives, are often tacked onto other bills as a means for some small special interest group to slip the new law into existence without proper public debate.
And we worry that the bill may not make reasonable allowances for people who simply have no way to afford job training programs, or push them into meaningless volunteer programs that really benefit no one but meet the requirement of 20 hours a week.
Still, it seems reasonable to expect able-bodied adults — again, in households with no children — receiving public assistance to do some sort of work to contribute back to the society which supplies those benefits.