Towards the end of his term, former Gov. Bobby Jindal wisely passed on extending the waiver the state accepted for recipients aged 18-49 for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This meant that, to receive typically $194 a month in vouchers to buy staple food items, qualifiers did not have to show they had worked, or participated in a training program, or volunteered at least 20 hours a week, no later than three months preceding SNAP utilization.
With a measure in place to allow states with a certain level of unemployment of opt out of imposing the requirements, recently an increasing number of states have gone this route of refusing the waiver with success in employment stimulation, volunteerism, and citizens going without hunger. But when Edwards took control of the state’s executive branch he made the implementation short-lived as he immediately reversed that decision.
In the succeeding months Edwards kept saying he would come up with something that did place some limits on program usage for this population. Proclaiming the order alleges to do so, by compelling recipients to go to one of the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s 59 Business and Career Solutions Centers to seek job placement, application assistance and training. Regular contact will bring continued benefits for an unlimited period of time, the order promises.
In reality, the order does next to nothing to stimulate employment or leverage wise usage of SNAP resources. Without the waiver, able-bodied recipients must contribute to society through working or volunteering, or making a definitive and determined effort to make themselves more employable. By contrast, the order merely asks the creation of a process by the beginning of next fiscal year for applicants to give expression to some continuing interest in finding employment or educational opportunities.
This mimics the extraordinarily loose requirements for unemployment insurance benefits, where recipients check in weekly attesting – without any real documentation or proof – that they made three contacts to attempt to find work and that they didn’t get an offer from any of these. However, at least these benefits last only a maximum of 26 weeks without exceptional circumstances; under Edwards’ order, SNAP continues without time limit.
That the order echoes the UI framework is no accident – because it’s already the case to be eligible for SNAP that all able-bodied adults, with specific exceptions, must register for work and accept suitable employment. Almost no full-time able-bodied single individuals who work full time, even at the minimum wage, qualify for SNAP, so its recipients in this category work part time or not at all. So for those on UI, the order simply replicates the same undemanding requirement.
For that approach to make a significant impact in encouraging work, close supervision of individuals involved must occur, to insure that they get matched to training opportunities and to appropriate jobs that they pursue faithfully. However, it seems farfetched that the agency involved can provide such intense service provision, as the Louisiana Workforce Commission insists that its existing resources can serve adequately the roughly 64,000 extra people it now must accommodate (if not already receiving UI).
As experience in other states has demonstrated, when ending the open-ended waivers employment among those single, able-bodied individuals rose significantly. This demonstrates that the self-monitoring strategy for compelling employment does not succeed in making many find work. Thus, adding an extra bureaucratic hoop for the labor-unmotivated to hurdle, who already game the work requirement for SNAP, will do little to move people off SNAP rolls.
Recognize the cosmetic nature of Edwards’ order. It looks great, like he’s attempting to move people from dependency, when in fact it does hardly anything – if not in duplicating existing requirements that barely make a difference, then by creating some similar ones that have proven highly ineffective in transitioning people from idleness to work.
If wanting to achieve a symbolic victory that accomplishes basically nothing but makes you look like you “care” and fools people into thinking you did something that will make a positive difference, Edwards scores. But if you insist on policy that really contributes to saving (federal) taxpayer dollars, encourages growth in individuals by asking them to contribute to society, and through their work (either now or in the future after training) prompts economic development that benefits all, the Edwards executive order has nothing in common with this desire.