- About NSC
- Skills Mismatch
A small town, where the shuttered logging industry looms large.
A city with increasingly untenable costs of living.
A rural and remote, tightknit, agricultural town.
The places James, Shalease, and Lynne call home are unique, yet they’re reminiscent of cities and towns scattered across the country. The ways they connected to training varied, too – following up with a referral from a Vocational Rehabilitation office, taking a suggestion from a Head Start teacher, listening to a recommendation upon becoming a foster parent. James, Shalease and Lynne lead complex, full lives. They have extensive work histories, are parents of grown children and little ones alike, care deeply about their families and are engaged in their communities. For all three, accessing public benefits and postsecondary education programs at their local community colleges improved their wellbeing and created a new trajectory for their lives.
Their stories illustrate why access to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food benefits and high-quality SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) programs are essential for building a thriving and equitable workforce and economy. They also speak to what so many in Congress, the media, and the public get wrong.
Shalease explained, “I was working as a caregiver, but I wasn’t making enough to feed my family. I accessed SNAP because it was a necessity. You already feel shame that you can’t feed your family. Then, people are looking at you like you don’t want to work or that you’re lazy. It’s not the case. There are plenty of families out there that are working every day, and still can’t afford to feed their kids.” Lynne agrees, saying, “I had no choice but to ask for help. I was ashamed. But, I needed to feed my children.”
James, whose children are grown and out of the house, felt the same stigma and frustration. “I lost my job due to an accident. I was trying to get jobs, but because of my physical disability, because of my age, I was getting turned down. In the small community that I was in, jobs are even more limited. People were like, ‘if you got an education we could hire you’.”
Lack of desire to work was not the issue. James, Shalease, and Lynne all emphasized that they needed better jobs and wages—and access to the education, training, and credentials that would get them there. Fortunately, all three connected with high-quality SNAP Employment and Training programs available at their local community colleges that offered GED programs, Career Technical Education, support services, and navigators to support their success. As Lynne explained, without her GED or a college credential, all it took was “one shoe to drop and then you have no job and no education, and have to return to benefits. And, the [sense of] shame. You get caught in the cycle. Education stops the cycle and has changed everything.”
With the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization before Congress this year, there is much at stake for our nation’s workers, businesses, and economy. At the very heart of the debate is whether provisions in the Farm Bill expand people’s access to essential food benefits and high-quality programs that create opportunity and economic stability for people like James, Lynne and Shalease, and the millions of other adults and families in parallel circumstances. On the flip side, Congress is also considering expanding work requirements and enacting draconian measures that would increase hunger and limit the resources available to states to offer high-quality programs and pathways into education, training, and good jobs that move people off of benefits. In this debate, much hangs in the balance for millions of our nation’s children, seniors, Veterans, students, and workers — our neighbors, family members, customers, caregivers, and friends. Given the Farm Bill’s reach, with levers that cut across human service, higher education, workforce, anti-poverty, and job quality issues, it is critical that skills advocates stay informed and ready to take action to ensure we invest in opportunity.
First passed in 1933, the Farm Bill legislates an array of agricultural and food programs. This federal policy supports farms and farmers, funds commodities and conservation programs, and shapes agricultural trade. It also contains provisions that govern our nation’s nutrition and anti-hunger programs, including WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infant and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Established in 1964, with the Food Stamp Act, SNAP is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program. SNAP benefits lead to greater food security for millions of families across the country. SNAP reached over 40 million people in 2021, with one in eight people accessing benefits nationally and up to one in four in some states. Not only does SNAP provide key food benefits for households with low incomes, it also benefits the economy. For every $1 invested in the SNAP program, $1.50 to $2.00 is put back into the economy, benefitting not only the families accessing SNAP, but small businesses, local and state economies. The Farm Bill supports and touches every community in our country – rural and urban regions as well as Tribal nations. It benefits farmers, conservationists, students, infants and children, Veterans, Seniors, people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, and working people at all stages in their careers.
The SNAP program has long included provisions to connect people with employment services, starting with the Food and Agricultural Act of 1977 and the Food Stamp Act of 1985 that required all states to operate SNAP Employment and Training programs. SNAP Employment and Training programs are intended to connect recipients of SNAP with opportunities to gain skills and access services that create career pathways and lead to sustainable employment that can end the need for SNAP benefit access. Since most recipients of SNAP who can work already do, SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) programs can be a critical strategy to connect people to high-quality education and training and support services that result in quality credentials and better jobs with family-sustaining wages. With the majority of jobs requiring some post-secondary education, SNAP E&T’s focus on boosting skills and educational attainment helps to close opportunity gaps and ensure people have the chance to thrive in today’s economy. Increased educational attainment also improves wages, reduces unemployment, and improves health outcomes — all of which are critical to reducing and ending the need for SNAP and other public benefit access.
With a longstanding history of reducing hunger and providing connections to employment and training services, the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization offers an opportunity to strengthen what works for people and families, local employers, and our economy. There is a chance to support common sense strategies that benefit our communities collectively, and scale state solutions that improve the impact of federal and state investments.
Work requirements don’t work. Broadly speaking, work requirements add additional stipulations and time limits on top of existing SNAP eligibility criteria.
To strengthen what works to reduce hunger and connect more people to high-quality education and training, support services, and opportunities to build the skills and earn the credentials that lead to good jobs with sustainable wages that end benefit access, Congress should:
Simplify Student Eligibility: Students with low incomes, who meet SNAP eligibility criteria, are still subjected to additional requirements that leaves too many students without critical food benefits. Many students can’t access essential benefits as they pursue postsecondary credentials that will result in increased employment, wages, and economic stability. To end this counterproductive policy quagmire, Congress should support and encourage the completion of postsecondary credentials and:
Reduce Administrative Burdens and Modernize Processes: The processes for accessing SNAP and SNAP E&T services are administratively burdensome for states and create obstacles for people. To improve the program, Congress should strengthen and clarify states’ ability to:
Encourage Employment and Stabilization: Benefit cliffs and food insecurity make it difficult for people seeking stable employment and economic stability. To reduce obstacles, Congress should:
Focus on Impact, Not Compliance: Mandatory programs, work requirements, and time limits are administratively burdensome for state agencies and cumbersome for people. They are costly to administer and funnel limited resources towards compliance and tracking hours of engagement instead of high-quality programming. To focus on impact, Congress should:
Improve Outcomes: Too often, SNAP E&T programs have been underfunded and have defaulted to workfare or job search services that do not increase economic stability and keep people trapped in low wage work. To improve outcomes, Congress should:
Increase Program Engagement and Completion: Participants need access to more than just high-quality education and training. People need resources to cover the costs of transportation, tools, books, childcare, industry-recognized credentials, and other expenses required to complete training and secure good jobs. Effective case management and career coaching services also improve outcomes. To increase program engagement and completion, Congress should:
Build Partnerships and System Capacity: Frequently, workforce programs are siloed and confusing for people to navigate. Congress should protect SNAP E&T’s flexibility, efficacy, and ability to respond to those most in need of employment and training services by empowering states to create human-centered programs that fill workforce development service gaps. To achieve this, Congress can:
Improve Data Systems and Infrastructures: Obstacles with data sharing across human service, workforce, higher educaiton, and community-based providers can make it challenging to assess the longitudinal impact of SNAP E&T and how the program benefits people, communities, and states. To improve the SNAP E&T data ecosystem, Congress should:
As with all policy recommendations, it’s important to remember that policies are ultimately about people. As James, Shalease, and Lynne illustrate, people accessing SNAP benefits are already working and seeking better opportunities. People want work that can provide for themselves and their family, and access to programs that increase their economic stability. They should not have to waste their time filling out more paperwork or logs detailing every hour of their work week (as work requirements mandate) in order to have food on the table. People want access to high-quality education and training so they can secure quality jobs and earn enough to cover the rising costs of living. They need safe and affordable childcare, and reliable transportation to get to work. People accessing SNAP don’t need policymakers to create programs that add arcane requirements that get them no further than when they started, and in some cases, leave them worse off. People want policymakers to find solutions.
Until getting connected to the SNAP E&T program – the education and training offered at their community college, support services to help with the costs of transportation, books, and tuition, and the coaching that propelled their success – James, Lynne, and Shalease each spoke of the experience of feeling trapped in a “cycle” or “loop of failure” where it felt impossible to get ahead. It should not be happenstance that the state you live in or the SNAP E&T programs offered generates opportunity and economic stability. In the same way that millions of students access the Pell grant, or that veterans access the GI Bill, or that laid off workers tap into Trade Act funding and unemployment benefits, SNAP and SNAP E&T are benefits people should be able to access seamlessly and without shame. As Shalease says, people are “just trying to get a foot up, to further themselves” so they can take care of their family and give back to their communities.
As the Farm Bill takes shape, advocates can remind policymakers that our public policies and investments must serve people and dismantle systemic obstacles to opportunity, not construct barriers to economic stability and family wellbeing. Let’s strengthen and invest in what works to ensure people have access to the supports they need, opportunities to build skills and earn credentials, and pathways into good jobs that offer economic security. Let’s ensure the Farm Bill works for families, farmers, workers, students, employers, and communities across our nation.