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SNAP food assistance cuts coming to Pima County

500k-1 million to lose benefits across U.S.

Beginning this month, unemployed SNAP recipients in Pima County will have 90 days to find employment or risk losing their food assistance.

As many as 40,000 Arizonans will be affected by this time crunch as the Arizona Department of Economic Security reinstates Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) requirements for individuals on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

The effects of employment requirements for SNAP recipients will go beyond individuals in need. The Association of Arizona Food Banks estimated that “$3.6 million will be taken out of the economy that could further support employment in supermarkets.”

The reinstatement of ABAWD requirements for SNAP recipients in 22 states is a result of economic improvements since the recession, but could negatively impact economies if fewer people have money for grocery shopping. The cuts will affect between 500,000 and 1 million people across the country this year.

In Arizona, SNAP helped almost 700,000 Arizonans buy groceries in February, according to John Bowen, a legislative specialist with the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

SNAP recipients receive a designated amount of credits on their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards that are used in local grocery stores.

Daniel Benavidez with the Tucson Urban League fears the effects that ABAWD restrictions will have on Tucson’s economy. “Those dollars go back to the economy,” he said, “when you cut those benefits you pull money out of the economy.”

While many of those who qualify for food assistance are exempt from employment requirements due to age, disabilities and dependents, there are more than a million SNAP recipients nationwide who will be affected by approaching employment deadlines.

During the recession federal and state governments recognized the need to waive ABAWD requirements for individuals seeking food assistance due to high unemployment rates.

In Tucson, at the height of the recession in 2010, unemployment reached 10.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 50,000 Tucsonans were unemployed.

Although unemployment is currently at the lowest it has been since the recession, at only 4.9 percent in Tucson, it is still higher than prerecession rates, which reached as low as 3 percent in 2007. While this difference is less than 2 percentage points, it represents more than 9,000 unemployed Tucsonans.

“The truth is we have more able bodies than we do jobs,” said Benavidez.

“Look at fast food restaurants,” Benavidez said. “Ten years ago the people at the window were kids in their 20s, now they’re in their 50s, 60s and 70s because even those jobs are coveted.”

SNAP recipients in Maricopa County were reintroduced to ABAWD employment requirements in January. A notice was sent out to the homes of individuals who did not qualify for ongoing assistance without a job. At the end of March the individuals who were still unemployed lost food benefits for three years, or until they can find employment.

In Pima County ABAWDs will have three months from their individual six-month reviews to find employment. April will only be considered the first of the three available months of food assistance if individuals are newly applying for SNAP or are due for their six-month review.

Yavapai County will begin facing employment requirements on July 1. All other counties and reservations will continue their exemption status due to higher unemployment rates or inadequate available jobs.

The DES is making changes that include “hiring of additional office personnel, and working with local community partners to provide increased employment,” said Bowen. “Additionally, DES is partnering with local labor leaders to develop and expand employment opportunities for all Arizonans, including the ABAWD population.”

“We immediately refer all ABAWD recipients to the SNAP Employment and Training Program to expedite their employment,” Bowen said.

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Unemployed ABAWDs can enroll in training with the SNAP Employment and Training Program or other programs that have been authorized by the Department of Economic Security that will allow them to continue receiving food assistance without employment for as long as they need.

While, “Tucson has been struggling and continues to struggle we to get out the recession,” according to Benavidez, the economic and individual effects of the changes to come are only a few months away.

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Ashley McGowan/Arizona Sonora News