No-good-cause exemptions will keep American workers on the sidelines

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As the economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest challenge is getting Americans back to work. Without serious intervention, federal loopholes with the food stamp work requirement will keep able-bodied Americans on the sidelines even longer.

In the past, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) were required to work, train, or volunteer for at least 20 hours per week as a condition of eligibility for food stamps. However, the federal government suspended the ABAWD work requirement until the end of the public health emergency. 

Federal law also allows “no-good-cause” exemptions to waive work requirements, and even before the pandemic, 34 states used this loophole to provide able-bodied adults with exemptions. “No-good-cause” exemptions allow states to exempt up to 12 percent of ABAWDs from the work requirement without providing any reason whatsoever.

New research from the Foundation for Government Accountability looks at how states are doubling down on no-good-cause exemptions, which will only exacerbate the labor shortage. 

The food stamp work requirement will effectively be suspended across most of the country even after the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end because…

  • No-good-cause exemptions carry over from year to year. If a state does not use its exemptions for 12 percent of its ABAWD population in one year, it can exempt 24 percent from the work requirement the next year.
  • Work requirement timelines will reset. States must treat able-bodied enrollees—individuals who have been enrolled for months or even years and who would normally be required to work after three months on food stamps—as though they just enrolled in the program.
  • States will likely renew or expand their own work requirement waivers. These waivers were originally intended for areas with high employment but states have regularly applied them to areas of low unemployment. With millions of open jobs, there is no need for states to expand these waivers.

Read more in the full paper.

The federal government is encouraging states to take advantage of the no-good-cause loophole but the bottom line is work requirements work. Studies across multiple states have demonstrated how the incomes of welfare recipients triple just two years after the implementation of work requirements in food stamps.

State lawmakers can act now without federal permission to get able-bodied Americans back to work.