With a booming economy, Illinois may not be able to escape SNAP work requirement again

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill, (ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK)- As the time nears for Illinois to decide whether it will request a waiver to exempt work requirements for federal food assistance, a central Illinois Republican and the candidate running to replace him are asking Gov. Bruce Rauner to forgo the waiver request.

In previous years, Rauner’s office has successfully received a federal waiver for all counties but DuPage, citing a lack of job opportunities. Despite the booming economic conditions, Illinois was one of 11 states eligible in 2018 to get a waiver due to unemployment levels.

As the rules currently stand, able-bodied adults without dependents must work, volunteer or train to get food assistance through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The food assistance benefits were previously known as food stamps.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order strengthening the work requirement for federal assistance in April.

The improving economy may mean that Illinois isn’t eligible. That would require the state to take action to get assistance in 2019.

According to the Illinois Hunger Coalition, 68 percent of food assistance recipients are exempt from federal work requirements but about 260,000 aren’t and would need to show they’re complying with the new requirements to get assistance.

Without the waiver, they’re currently only eligible for three months of food assistance over three years.

“The Department has not requested a waiver for 2019,” said Patrick Laughlin, Deputy Director of Communications with the Department of Human Services. “We are still collecting and analyzing the data that will determine any future waiver decisions.”

If not all counties, Rauner could choose to apply for a waiver in as many counties as would qualify.

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, a Decatur Republican not running for re-election, sent Rauner a letter urging him not to apply for a waiver on the chance that Illinois may be eligible.

“The state of Illinois should be providing a helping hand, not a handout, to people who should be working,” he wrote in the letter.

Supporters of work requirements have criticized the Rauner administration for working with progressive groups to manipulate old employment data to qualify for a broad exemption.

“The state of Illinois has taken advantage of a waiver program over the past years that removes that requirement for everyone in Illinois save DuPage County,” said Dan Caulkins, the Republican running to take Mitchell’s place.

The July unemployment rate in Macon County, where Decatur is located, was 5.6 percent, one of the highest in central Illinois and one of 27 counties with unemployment above 5 percent.

Caulkins’ Democratic opponent, Jennifer McMillan, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Public opinion broadly supports a work requirement for the able-bodied to receive food assistance. A poll conducted for the Foundation for Government Accountability said 82 percent of eligible voters surveyed supported a work requirement for federal food assistance.

This all happens as Congress hashes out the final details of the Farm Bill. The House version has a strict work requirement for federal food assistance. The Senate’s doesn’t. The current Farm Bill expires at the end of September.

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