As a supporter of many public policies that aim to help the lower class, I was asked my thoughts on this policy and the resulting findings when Maine installed some new requirements for eligibility for the SNAP (food assistance) program. It mandates that applicants either work part-time (20 hours a week), enroll in a vocational program, or volunteer for a minimum of 24 hours per month. The results, as expected, greatly reduced the number of enrollees from 12k to 2.5k and is being heralded as a resounding success. But is it?
I think restrictions such as this and the failed drug test for food stamps policies beg the question of why do social programs exist? Are they supposed to incentivize the poor to become hard working, tax paying members of the proletariat, or to provide assistance to struggling citizens? It reminds me of the constant battle in theory of why our prisons exist. To rehabilitate or to punish? The answer to these questions is difficult, because many times, it is both.
I prefer to think that social programs exist to help the less fortunate. National and global perspective are very near and dear to me. No matter what your thinking on people "being lazy" and "taking advantage of the system" if you are reading this on your smart phone or a device that you own with internet service you pay for you are lucky, and not just because you "worked hard for it". As a nation, we undoubtedly have the means and resources to provide food (but monetarily speaking and food production-wise) to our starving citizens. Especially, when $1 in SNAP benefits adds $1.70 to the Maine economy. So we should ask ourselves as a country, do we want to give a mouse a cookie? Many people would say no. But what if that mouse is in a cage and we are the only ones who can feed it? Absolutely there are people that take advantage of these systems, but they help a great deal more. Working, enrolling, or volunteering all seem like reasonable and clear asks in order to qualify for food assistance, but many personal circumstances can cloud things that seem cut and dry. Many poor have time consuming families, disabilities, addictions, and other variables that make meeting this new criteria more difficult. Finding and paying babysitters, transportation, access to computers, scheduling, make an uphill battle even steeper for those trying to get help.
I do believe this policy is better than many others that try to motivate the poor to "get a job", and if that is what it takes for the two party system to work together to open up forms of social assistance then I will take the bad with the good. I also believe that this policy achieved its goal, which was ultimately to cut the SNAP budget and punish those who "aren't willing to work". Ideally, I would like to see these types of policies removed from state legislature. Social programs are supposed to provide assistance, not resistence.