Work requirements and safety net programs

Mother consoling her teenage daughter.


Basic assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) and Medicaid ensure families have access to food and medical care when they are low-income. Some policymakers at the federal and state levels intend to add new work requirements to SNAP and Medicaid. In this paper, we analyze those who would be impacted by an expansion of work requirements in SNAP and an introduction of work requirements into Medicaid. We characterize the types of individuals who would face work requirements, describe their labor force experience over 24 consecutive months, and identify the reasons why they are not working if they experience a period of unemployment or labor force nonparticipation. We find that the majority of SNAP and Medicaid participants who would be exposed to work requirements are attached to the labor force, but that a substantial share would fail to consistently meet a 20 hours per week–threshold. Among persistent labor force nonparticipants, health issues are the predominant reason given for not working. There may be some subset of SNAP and Medicaid participants who could work, are not working, and might work if they were threatened with the loss of benefits. This paper adds evidence to a growing body of research that shows that this group is very small relative to those who would be sanctioned under the proposed policies who are already working or are legitimately unable to work.