GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Thousands of people in South Mississippi on the federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could lose their monthly food benefit of up to $190 before summer.
The Sun Herald reports starting this year, SNAP recipients from 18 to 49 years old who have no children have three months to find a job or enroll in training or education programs. If they don't, their benefits likely will end. Those benefits are similar to the old food stamp program. Now the money is loaded on a card similar to a credit card that can be used to buy approved food items.
Despite new rules, food stamps are still used to help those in need.
And while cutting benefits may cheer those who believe most welfare recipients are simply lazy, community activists say the policy, which went into effect Jan. 1, could cut the last lifeline for Mississippi's most vulnerable people.
"In most cases, these are the most vulnerable young adults who are living in economies that aren't producing a lot of job opportunities," said Matt Williams, who studied the program for the Mississippi Center for Justice. "In most cases, it's folks who have fallen onto hard times. These are folks who are trying to get back on their feet. If anyone has ever tried to get a job in a county where unemployment is 13 or 14 percent, it could take a lot longer than three months."
Some employment experts, for example, remind even those professionals with advanced degrees not to get discouraged if they waited six months without a call back.
In fact, the people who administer the program say many who receive SNAP are employed but simply don't make enough to lift themselves out of poverty. Under the new rules, they may not get enough hours some months to meet the work requirement.
"The public, what they see and what they hear, the old-school thinking is, yeah, everybody who is getting government assistance is basically living their life off it," said Harold Netto, regional director over the state Department of Human Service region that includes the three Coast counties. "Here, we don't think of it that way. What we think of is trying to improve their life the best we can -- not only putting food on the table through the SNAP program but to put them in some of these employment opportunities."