SNAP work waiver rule would affect more than 160K Illinoisans, human services department says

JACKSON COUNTY, IL — A federal law mandates that able-bodied adults without children can get limited food stamp benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program unless they are working. Some states, like Illinois, get waivers for communities with high unemployment. But now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to make it harder to get those waivers.

Jim has been getting S.N.A.P. benefits for almost three years, but he lost those benefits and his insurance this month.

“It’s kind of aggravating, but I’ll work it out somehow,” said Jim.

He asked us not to show his face, because he plans to appeal. He said S.N.A.P. has been helpful in tough times.

“I picked out stuff, and I tried to get stuff that lasts awhile. You know, two growing boys,” said Jim.

There are 13,391 people in Jackson County who receive S.N.A.P. benefits. In Illinois, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-49 with no dependents can be waived from following federal law and working or volunteering 80 hours a month to get their SNAP benefits. The USDA is trying to change that. But, Jim said he found a job, and now they say he makes too much money.

“Start working a little bit, then you’re booted out,” said Jim.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue sent a letter to governors asking them to rethink the use of waivers. Roger Pierson agrees.

“I think it would be a good idea and help teach people some work ethics and maybe help them transition into a job,” said Pierson.

Jim does think people should work if they’re able, but he said every case is different.

“You better have a job out there for them. There are not that many jobs out there for unskilled people,” said Jim.

No one knows when they will need a helping hand.

The Illinois Department of Human Services opposes the proposed federal rule change. In a statement, the department says:

“The Department of Human Services opposes the proposed federal rule change to the ABAWD waiver. The change would disqualify more than 160,000 Illinoisans from receiving the food assistance they depend on. Many of our clients face serious barriers to employment, such as mental illnesses, substance use disorders, justice involvement and significant physical limitations, and would not be able to immediately meet the work requirements. However, we also recognize that some of our clients can and want to work. To that end, IDHS has been coordinating with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to determine how to better serve the workforce needs of this population and intends to reach out to local and national experts to develop a strategy based upon best practices.”