Food stamp program needs more oversight

Elkhart Truth

In November, up to 50,000 Hoosiers could lose food stamp benefits because of a change to federal work and job training requirements.

Many would say it’s a change that’s long overdue, that people receiving benefits should work a certain number of hours or be in a job training program to get the money. Many would say we need to stop giving handouts and figure out how to get more people working.

That’s a fair argument, but the devil is in the details and those details could have a serious impact on people and food pantries.

The proposed change would impact people who don’t have dependents, so at least we’re not talking about the estimated 350,000 children who face hunger in the state.

This change likely would make people rely even more heavily on food pantries and food banks. In Indiana, and particularly Elkhart County, the way people use agencies that provide free food hasn’t changed the way you’d expect when unemployment was as low 3.5 percent in April and just a tad higher at 3.9 percent in July.

Food banks are still busy. People who get low wages or are underemployed still use food pantries to feed their families. Agencies that serve hot meals aren’t wondering whether what they make will be served.

The state suspended Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program requirements in 2009 because of the high unemployment during the recession. Now that the recession is over, reinstating the rules makes sense.

Sadly, job training programs haven’t necessarily become more plentiful. The reliance on food pantries hasn’t dropped. So as this change comes at about 6 percent of those receiving the benefits, it could be seen as a hardship.

The state and federal governments offer some training programs, but their prominence didn’t rise in the wake of the recession as they should have. The Men Alive and Soup of Success programs at Church Community Services are great examples of programs that work and get people back to work, but there aren’t enough programs like them.

In the same way that the unemployment rate is an economic indicator, perhaps too much weight is put on it. It doesn’t tell a story of a community that suffered as average wages dropped, of how people still rely on free food, on whether people have dropped off the rolls because they’ve left the workforce. It’s an indicator, but there are others that show we’re still bouncing in the wake of the recession.

As this change comes, those things need to be addressed as well. It should have happened long before now.