You can have food, but only if you train for jobs that don’t exist:
Sherry Hooper, director of Food Depot in northern New Mexico, said demand for food help is up 30 percent since 2008. Ranching, mining and tourism industries that once supported residents of the remote area have fallen on hard times, she said, and because of rural isolation, many poor families have to shop at gas stations. “They’re expecting people to seek jobs that are just not there,” she said.
A spokesman for the state human services department, Matt Kennicott, said the state wants people to be more self-sufficient but is not trying to take benefits away or save money. Unemployed workers can keep food stamps if they can document job training, he said. “There are jobs available,” said Kennicott. “The people in the work force don’t necessarily have the skills required by those employers. We need to get those people trained.” (my emphasis)
I fear there is still too much of this kind of policy disconnect abroad in the land. Are there jobs or aren’t there? You can’t make an economic collapse go away by shouting “job training” at it. Denying food stamp benefits to people who truly cannot find jobs is terrible policy for fairly obvious reasons. But tying food stamp eligibility to participation in training is also terrible policy. It’s clearly unfair if training is not available to everyone who needs it. I have no idea if there is enough job training available in this part of New Mexico to meet the demand, although I’m willing to bet there’s not. But even if there is, it’s still terrible policy, because there will always be people who need these benefits who won’t be able to participate in job training (due to age, disability, etc.).
And training people to do jobs that don’t exist doesn’t make any sense either—again, for fairly obvious reasons. Most responsible workforce advocates understand this, but it appears to me that some policymakers think that simply saying the magic words “job training” somehow obviates the need to address poverty and unemployment in a humane and coherent fashion.
UPDATE 8/20/14: I slightly rewrote the last sentence of this post to more accurately reflect the point I was trying to make.
It was widely reported yesterday that the Georgia Senate passed SB 312, a bill that would require food stamp recipients to earn their GED, pursue technical education, attend personal development classes of some kind, or enroll in adult literacy classes. The text of the original bill can be found in this earlier post. I took a quick look this morning and I don’t see any significant amendments to the bill as introduced, but you can investigate for yourself by following the history of the bill here (bottom of the page).
According to USA Today, the bill exempts people under 16 or over 59; the mentally or physically disabled; people working at least 30 hours a week; students; participants in alcohol or drug rehabilitation programs, caretakers for a dependent child under six years of age or for an incapacitated adult or people receiving unemployment benefits. The Georgia Department of Human Services would create a five-county pilot program before taking the initiative statewide.
But I don’t see any reports, or any language in the bill or amendments, suggesting that an increase to adult education funding is included as part of this initiative. The intent of the bill, according Sen. William Ligon, the bill’s sponsor, was “to help underemployed Georgians get the professional development training they need to better themselves.” I would have assumed that an initiative intended to—and that likely will—increase demand for adult education services would include additional funding for those services. Perhaps there are separate efforts underway to make more funding available.
Another source reports that the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts estimates the pilot program will cost $23 million, and statewide implementation expected to cost $772 million. But I don’t think those costs include additional state investment in adult education services. I’d love to be wrong!
Of course, there is also a question as to whether it’s fair or makes sense to mandate unrelated and possibly (for some) unrealistic requirements to a program that is designed to provide a very minimal level of food security to poor people. There are often good reasons why people are not be able to participate in training programs or adult education, including lack of transportation and/or lack of appropriate services.
In December, a group of state Senators in Georgia introduced legislation that would mandate participation in “personal growth activities” for those otherwise eligible for food stamps to retain eligibility. The language is vague about what constitutes a “personal growth activity,” so on the face of it, this requirement doesn’t appear to be as difficult to meet as, for example, the education requirement being considered by the House of Representatives in their UI extension proposal.
I have no idea whether this bill is likely to become law. But it’s interesting to keep track of proposals like this, i.e. proposals to link eligibility for certain government benefits programs with participation in adult education activities.
Here is the full text of the proposed amendment (the new language is underlined):
Chapter 4 of Title 49 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to public assistance, is amended in Article 1, relating to general provisions, by adding a new Code section to read as follows:
(a) In order to be eligible for food stamps, an applicant shall engage in personal growth activities, which may include, but not be limited to, working toward a general educational development (GED) diploma, if not a high school graduate; pursuing technical education; attending self-development classes; and enrolling in an adult literacy class.
(b) The department shall promulgate rules and regulations to implement the requirements of this Code section.
(c) This Code section shall not apply to an applicant who is employed at least 40 hours per week.
(d) The commissioner may, by regulation, waive or alter the requirements of this Code section for cases or situations in which the commissioner finds that compliance with the requirements would be oppressive or inconsistent with the purposes of this article.“
The bill also amends a section of Title 49 related to TANF administration, so that “personal growth activities” programs are included in the “personal responsibility obligations” required of TANF recipients, and, similar to the provision above, adds “working toward a general educational development (GED) diploma, if not a high school graduate; pursuing technical education; attending self-development classes; and enrolling in an adult literacy class” as examples of such acitvities. I’m not familiar enough with Georgia TANF administration to know whether that language would be likely to support more TANF recipients to enroll in adult education.