Most Americans agree that able-bodied adults should be required to do some type of work to receive welfare assistance. But two nonprofit groups and a handful of food stamp recipients in New Mexico are suing the state for trying to encourage just that.
Last Friday, a New Mexico district judge placed a temporary hold on the work requirements, which were set to go into effect Nov. 1. On Wednesday of this week, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez announced that the state would restart the process of putting the work requirements into place rather than going through the litigation process. The state will pursue the same work requirements.
While the food stamp program doesn’t have much of a work requirement, it does have a modest one for able-bodied adults without children (or other dependents). Able-bodied adults without children are limited to three months of food stamp benefits unless they work or participate in some type of work activity for at least 20 hours a week. However, since 2009, New Mexico—along with many other states—has received a federal waiver allowing it to bypass the work requirement. But New Mexico has decided to forego the waiver. The state also plans to insert modest work requirements for other able-bodied adults who don’t have young children (under age 6), requiring them to look for work or participate in community service.
But the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Southwest Organizing Project say that work requirements are unfair and are suing the New Mexico Human Services Department.
Mark Kennicott, a representative of the department, stated:
The 2009 waiver was never meant to be permanent, and our goal is to help more New Mexicans become self-sufficient, earn job training skills and find employment.
Self-sufficiency through work is a principle that should undergird the welfare system. Welfare programs should encourage able-bodied individuals toward self-sufficiency. If welfare assistance is needed it is there, but work is better and welfare policy should encourage it first. Time away from work doesn’t look good on a resume, and unnecessarily enrolling in welfare impedes an individual’s long-term wage growth.
New Mexico is taking a first step toward promoting work. The food stamp program, however, needs greater reform at the federal level. The vast majority of food stamp funding comes from the federal government, as does the majority of funding for the roughly 80 means-tested welfare programs currently in operation.
Like the 1996 welfare reform that inserted work requirements into the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, food stamps should be reformed similarly. In the 1996 reform, work-eligible applicants were required, upon entry, to be working or to enroll in some type of work