What Bootstraps? Proposed food stamp cuts could leave job seekers with nowhere to turn

September 26, 2013

“If you think about able-bodied adults who are on food stamps who could be working but aren’t, the reason for that is probably either because there are no jobs in their community or because those people have very low skills,” says Rachel Gragg, federal policy director at the National Skills Coalition, which pushes for more investment in federal job training programs.

Republicans might argue that SNAP recipients who have trouble finding work can simply turn to one of the existing work training programs. There are doubts, however, as to whether the existing job-training infrastructure could support that kind of influx. Many of those programs face budget problems of their own and are already serving a number of different populations— and the House bill does not actually create any new training opportunities.

“It’s just laughable to make the claim they can just be absorbed into these programs,” says Gragg. “The idea that there’s just all this unused capacity in workforce development is ridiculous. They have destroyed existing capacity with the funding cuts that have been going on for the last decade that they have made worse through the sequester and the Budget Control Act.”

As Gragg points out, many of these job training programs are facing massive funding cuts. Spending on Workforce Investment Act programs has decreased by almost $370 million since 2010. In that same time period, spending on career and technical education state grants and adult education programs declined by more than $185 million. Even the House bill on food stamps includes a substantial 12 percent cut to SNAP employment and training programs—seemingly the most appropriate fit for an influx of food stamp recipients who must fulfill their work requirements.

At the same time, demand for these programs has skyrocketed. Participation in WIA programs, for instance, has increased by about 250 percent over the last five years. Meanwhile, a 2010 survey found that 160,000 Americans were on wait lists for adult education programs—a number that is likely to grow after sequestration’s additional cuts to education.