In less than three months, some of the poorest residents in South Carolina will lose a critical tool to help them get enough to eat each day.
Beginning in July, a draconian time limit on basic assistance to keep food on the table will go into effect for thousands of non-disabled adults ages 18-49 who are not caring for minor children.
These individuals will be limited to just three months of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) out of any three years if they are not working or in a work-training program for at least 20 hours a week. This most certainly will increase hunger and hardship throughout the state.
States can choose to waive this harsh rule in areas of high unemployment, and many, including South Carolina, did during the recession. But as the economy has improved, states have begun to reimpose the time limit.
They have the option of continuing these waivers in areas that are still struggling with high unemployment, and South Carolina could waive the rule for the entire state through December because we have far more people looking for work than jobs available.
South Carolina operates few employment programs, and in fact, the state closed our Department of Employment and Workforce offices in 17 of our rural/poorest counties. Consequently, many of these individuals will lose SNAP regardless of how hard they are looking for work or want to attend a job-training program. Searching for work does not count toward the 20 hours needed to satisfy the new requirements. Likewise, many of those who will be affected are already working, but may not be able to find the hours needed to meet the requirement.
Our poorest, struggling citizens deserve to be treated with dignity and understanding. Implementing time limits is not the solution.
Creating jobs that pay a living wage, improving access to transportation and expanding education and training opportunities are far better ways to decrease the number of people in need of federal food assistance.
Berkowitz is the director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center; contact her at SBerk@scjustice.org.