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​Food stamp cuts may force 1 million into "hardship"

As states tighten their eligibility requirements for food stamps, that may leave as many as 1 million adults facing "serious hardship" next year, according to a new forecast.

Some of the country's poorest will be struck from the rolls in 2016 as states re-impose work requirements that they had allowed to lapse when the recession struck in 2007, according to a new report from the progressive-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank.

With the work requirements going back into effect, many states are planning to reinstate a three-month limit on food stamps for adults who aren't disabled or raising children and who don't have a job or are in a training program for at least 20 hours a week.

While that might seem fair -- after all, critics of the program would question giving food to people who aren't apparently willing to work -- the CBPP notes that most states don't offer job training to every adult who is at risk of losing their food stamp benefits.

"The loss of this food assistance, which averages approximately $150 to $200 per person per month for this group, will likely cause serious hardship among many," the report notes.

Only five states commit to providing job training or workfare to every nondisabled childless adult who is at risk of losing their food-stamp benefits after three months, the CBPP notes. (Those states are Colorado, Delaware, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.)

Despite the improving national economy, some workers are still finding it difficult to find work. The number of long-term unemployed, or people out of work for more than six months, is growing, with almost 2 percent of the labor force now suffering from persistent joblessness.

At the same time, the stricter rules governing food-stamp eligibility are coming into play thanks to a stronger economy, which has lowered short-term unemployment rates in many states. In May, 36 states and Washington, D.C., still qualified for the work requirement waiver, but the CBPP notes that most of these will expire after 2015.

To be sure, many of those nonworking adults may be able to find jobs or enter training programs before those waivers expire. For many taxpayers, lower spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be good news, especially as spending on the program surged to $76 billion in 2013, or about 2.2 percent of the government's 2013 budget, or more than double the program's spending in 2006.

Those most likely to be impacted by the cuts are the least likely to be able to handle the reduction, with the CPBB noting many "are low-income, low-skill workers with limited job prospects." Half of them only have a high-school diploma or a GED, with the unemployment rate for this educational group standing at 9 percent in 2014. That's triple the rate for those with bachelor's degrees or higher.

Those impacted will tend to be young and male, according to the forecast. Only 40 percent will be women, and only one-third will be over 40 years old.

Maine is one of the states that's already taken the step of removing the waiver, with Republican governor Paul LePage saying last year that more people should work for their food. "People who are in need deserve a hand up, but we should not be giving able-bodied individuals a handout,'' LePage said in July, when he announced the decision.

That is cutting off about 6,500 Maine residents from food stamps beginning this month. The unemployment rate in Maine stood at 5.7 percent in November, almost on par with the national figure, but some counties have higher-than-average levels of joblessness, such as Piscataquis County's 8.1 percent.

One unemployed Maine resident told Portland's WCSH-TV that people aren't out of work because of choice. "There [are] no jobs out there," she told the station.

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