Time for SNAP Reform in Alaska

Reform of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is essential to getting Alaskans in need the help they require. Families with children especially often depend upon a fair and efficient administration of SNAP aid. That’s why the current state of SNAP in Alaska is anything but fair or efficient.

The original purpose of SNAP was not to serve as a permanent stop for families. There are two very good reasons for that: first, SNAP or any other welfare program can never improve recipients’ lives nearly as effectively as work, and second, the more able-bodied adults receiving welfare, the less resources there are available for those truly in need of help.

Food stamps should never be preferable to work — and the program should be structured to encourage childless, able-bodied adults to return to the workforce as quickly as possible. The real metrics of SNAP’s success ought to be the speed and efficiency with which it moves its recipients off its own rolls.

That’s why it’s inexcusable and inexplicable that Alaska’s administration of SNAP runs directly counter to these common-sense principles. SNAP as constituted has work requirements: if recipients wish to maintain their benefits, they must work, train, or volunteer for a minimum of 20 hours per week. But states have the ability to request waivers from these requirements in areas with “economic distress” and high unemployment rates.

Alaska has requested and received this waiver. Why is Alaska doing this? It’s doing it for two major reasons. One is that the expansion of SNAP means an expansion of federal funds (“free money” that comes from federal taxpayers) to the state. The other is that the program metrics have been turned on their head: instead of success being a function of the number of Alaskans moved off the program, it is seen as a function of the number of Alaskans entrapped within it.

The Trump Administration has an opportunity to substantively revise SNAP’s rules to prevent the sort of abuse and distortion of the program we see here in Alaska—and to truly move able-bodied adults back to work. This reform will go a long way toward restoring SNAP to what it is meant to be: a program to aid those truly in need.