Washington – Because the economy has improved in the towns where they live, thousands of Connecticut food stamp recipients lost their food stamp benefits beginning this month.
The state’s economic upturn in 87 towns, including Torrington, Stamford, Fairfield, Glastonbury and Trumbull, has resulted in childless, adult food stamp recipients who are unemployed — known as “Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents,” or ABAWD — to lose their benefits unless they got jobs, education or training for at least 20 hours a week.
The Connecticut Department of Social Services says its most recent projection indicated that 3,305 recipients living in the 82 towns with lower unemployment rates, lost SNAP benefits on April 1.
A recent report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning policy group in Washington D.C., estimates as many as 1 million lost their food stamp benefits nationwide as of April 1.
Those who lost benefits in Connecticut represent a fraction of the approximately 405,300 state residents who received SNAP benefits in February, the last count of recipients. But anti-hunger advocates say the change will cause hardship for some of society’s most vulnerable.
In 2009, because of the economic pain caused by the Great Recession, states were able to obtain a waiver from regulations of the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP), the official name for food stamps. The waiver allowed single adults with no children and no job to obtain benefits
That waiver expired completely in some states on April 1. In others, like Connecticut, cities and towns where employment rates are high – and as a result are considered to have a “surplus of jobs” – are no longer be eligible for the waiver.
Some of the cities and towns that will still be eligible for benefits are Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, East Haven, New London and Norwalk.
The requirement that abled-bodied adults work in order to be eligible for food stamps was part of the Welfare and Medicaid Reform Act of 1996, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton and sponsored in the House by then-Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio. Another presidential hopeful, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, voted against the welfare bill, as did Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, the only member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation who was in office at the time.
Homeless and disabled
Lucy Potter, a staff attorney with Greater Hartford Legal Aid, said she helped two people last week find a way to keep their benefits.
One was a homeless person living in the woods in Enfield.
“We were able to document that he was homeless, which is an exception,” Potter said.
She said another individual kept his benefits because she was able to get a doctor to certify he was disabled — another qualification for SNAP benefits if you’re unemployed, single and childless.
“It’s a terrible rule,” Potter said of the ABAWD provision. “It was based on the assumption that there are work programs to help these people and there are no programs. They cost too much.”
Potter is concerned many, poor, disabled people who haven’t officially been declared disabled will lose benefits.
“Nobody’s going to hire them and they haven’t been looking for work in a long time,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”
David Dearborn, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Social Services, said all those affected by the end of the SNAP waiver have received notice, “along with advisement of resources available to assist them with employment and training or documenting time-limited status.”
He listed several organizations that are working with DSS to help with employment training and other resources that would help people keep their food stamp benefits, including Capital Community College, Asnuntuck Community College, Gateway Community College, Northwestern Community College, Goodwin College and Opportunities Industrialization Center in New London.
Also partnering with DSS on the issue is Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Community Culinary School of Northwestern CT, and Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Dearborn said.
Meanwhile, End Hunger CT!, the Community Health Centers Association of Connecticut and Connecticut Association for Human Services, “serve as other advisory resources,” Dearborn said.
Ed Bolen, the author of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report, said it’s not likely that a Republican-controlled Congress, which has sought new limits to SNAP enrollment, will help those who have lost benefits most recently.
“Given the political environment, I don’t think there is a will in Congress to change things,” he said.