Rauner bucks national trend by extending costly welfare waiver for the able-bodied
Under Gov. Bruce Rauner, Illinois has again extended a welfare waiver covering able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) when other states, with their economies expanding, are reverting to the cost-saving reforms enacted in 1996 under then-President Bill Clinton.
In October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted a request from the Illinois Department of Human Services to extend the waiver for ABAWDs that allows them to enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, without the minimum work requirement established in the 1996 law. The waiver holds statewide, except for DuPage County, throughout 2018.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton), who is challenging Rauner in the Republican gubernatorial primary, said the state is missing an opportunity to incentivize people to find work again and save the taxpayers money.
“It’s not fair to the taxpayers and those on the margins who might legitimately qualify for the program but are too proud to look to the government for help,” Ives said. “Rather than instituting welfare reform as other states have, he (Rauner) is again showing himself to be a true liberal instead.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama allowed states to waive SNAP work requirements, which resulted in the number of ABAWDs on food stamps more than doubling from 1.9 million in 2008 to 3.9 million in 2010, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service study.
Since the turnaround in the economy, many states have dropped the waivers and returned to the 1996 reforms in the law that required work or even volunteering their time.
“It’s outrageous we can’t even require those enrolled in the program to at least volunteer some time,” Ives said.
Alabama, for one, has begun requiring the able-bodied in 13 counties to either find a job or participate in work training as a condition for continuing to receive SNAP benefits, according to a July Fox News report.
Similar changes were implemented in select counties in Georgia, and by the end of the first three months of 2017, the same report said, the number of adults receiving benefits in three participating counties dropped 58 percent.
In 2014, Maine instituted a change that required the able-bodied to work at least 20 hours a week or perform at least six hours a week of community service.
From 2014 to 2015, food stamp participation declined by nearly 15 percent, an analysis by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services showed. The same analysis also showed that over the same time period Maine’s unemployment rate dropped from 6 percent to 5.2 percent, and the average weekly wage in the Bangor metro region increased 10.7 percent and 7.8 percent in the Portland region.
Nationwide, the number of people enrolled in food stamps dropped by 2 million, from 44,219,363 in fiscal 2016 to 42,182,443 in fiscal 2017, according to figures compiled by the USDA.
A report credited the drop-off to states enacting laws requiring food stamp recipients to work, volunteer, be in school or take part in job training, and to the nation’s improved economy.
The Chicago Jobs Council estimates that 260,000 Illinoisans fall under the waiver.