By Scott Robertson
Self-sufficiency. Individual accountability. Personal responsibility. Those ideas are keystones of the American ideal. While we pride ourselves on being a nation that will offer a hand to those in need, especially in times of crisis or emergency, we also realize we thrive when individuals take responsibility to do all they can to raise themselves from negative circumstances. The word “bootstraps” often comes to mind in these conversations.
In Tennessee this week, the governor announced plans to reinstate standards that encourage able-bodied adults to reintroduce themselves to their bootstraps. Bill Haslam and Department of Human Services Commissioner Danielle Barnes said Monday they will restore the work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – or what used to be called “food stamps”).
That requirement had been waived back in 2008 when the economy tanked and unemployment spiked. Waiving the requirement had been an example of the state being lenient in time of crisis or emergency. The economy of 2017, however, is a much kinder, gentler circumstance than that of 2008, Haslam said.
“This waiver was necessary at a time when people were hurting from the recession. But nearly a decade later, Tennessee is one of the top locations in the Southeast for high quality jobs, and it’s now difficult to justify waiving the work requirement for adults without dependents who are able to work. We have experienced record low unemployment rates and substantial job growth in Tennessee, and if you can’t find a job, we are here to help you through a network of resources and opportunities across the state.”
While several other states joined Tennessee in waiving the work requirement in 2008, most have already put it back in place. Nine middle Tennessee counties in which the unemployment rate is the lowest in the state have already reinstated the requirement.
Haslam’s announcement means the work requirement will be reinstituted in 70 counties beginning Feb. 1, 2018. Reinstatement of the requirement will likely impact 58,000 ABAWDs not currently meeting the requirement. The work requirement waiver will remain in 16 counties designated as distressed and have a labor surplus.
To satisfy the ABAWD work requirement, an individual must fulfill one of the following: work at least 20 hours per week; or participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 20 hours per week; or participate in an approved workfare/volunteer program at least 20 hours per week. DHS will partner with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Economic and Community Development to assist individuals in meeting the work requirement.
In short, the state will still go out of its way to help individuals move from SNAP to full self-sufficiency, but the waiver from work is on its way out.