A bill nearing final passage in the state Legislature would make it harder for some Louisiana families to put food on the table during hard economic times. Senate Bill 195 by Sen. Blake Miguez , which is scheduled for debate in a House committee this week, would block the state Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) from seeking or accepting certain waivers related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is a federal program with a simple but vital mission: to make sure that people with low incomes get enough to eat by helping them to pay for groceries. SNAP benefits can only be used to buy food, and can only be redeemed at authorized retailers. Almost one million Louisianans participate in SNAP.1 On average in Louisiana, SNAP assistance pays about $2.11 per meal.2

Recipients are required to comply with work reporting requirements to continue their eligibility for the program, with some exceptions. Under federal rules, SNAP participants who are deemed “able-bodied adults without dependents (or ABAWDs) are limited to three months of food benefits over a three-year period unless they comply with work reporting requirements. Even so,  Congress gives states the ability to waive the time limits to ensure food security for communities and families in times of economic downturn or other hardship. These waivers allow states to remain flexible in responding to the needs of their communities.

The latest version of SB195 would block DCFS from using the safety valves built into SNAP work requirements, no matter the circumstances. The bill has seen significant changes since it was first introduced, but the bill is still bad for Louisiana. 

SB 195 locks Louisiana into burdensome, confusing, and time-consuming paperwork requirements that will not lead to increased employment. The number of SNAP recipients affected by the waiver is minimal compared to total SNAP participation—the fiscal note estimates 30,000 SNAP participants.  Further, officials in other states describe administering the time limit requirement as “an operational nightmare,” according to a 2016 USDA audit of states’ administration of the requirement.3

SB 195 could cause eligible people to lose their food benefits while a state agency sorts out implementation.   The additional burdens of complying with the time-limit requirement could drive some SNAP participants to give up on obtaining benefits, even when they are eligible.  According to a USDA quality control audit, the complexity of administering the time limit requirement has led to a high rate of erroneous terminations by state agencies—that is, bureaucratic mistakes which unexpectedly and catastrophically cut off food aid to participants who should qualify for an exception to the requirement.4

SNAP waivers allow DCFS to respond to regional fluctuations in unemployment. While Louisiana is experiencing some of the lowest unemployment rates in decades, pockets of high unemployment still exist throughout the state.  In March 2024, the state unemployment rate was 4.5%, but some parishes experienced unemployment rates over 9%.5  When DCFS is allowed to respond using a waiver, families have access to critical support for food when they need it most.

Louisiana is one of the most food-insecure states in the country, and SNAP is an essential part of the social safety net. Putting more burden on and additional hurdles for Louisianans to prove that they are food insecure is not the answer.

  1. Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, January 2024 State Level Participation & Benefits, https://fns-prod.azureedge.us/sites/default/files/resource-files/snap-persons-4.pdf. ↩︎
  2. Lauren Hall et al., Center for Budget & Policy Priorities, A Closer Look at Who Benefits from SNAP: State-by-State Fact Sheets: Louisiana (Feb. 13, 2023), ↩︎
  3. Ashley Burnside, Center For Law and Social Policy., SNAP Time Limits Can Reduce Access for Disabled People (Apr. 25, 2023), https://www.clasp.org/blog/snap-time-limits-can-reduce-access-for-disabled-people/. ↩︎
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture., FNS Controls Over SNAP Benefits For Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (Report 27601-0002-31) at 5 (Sept. 29, 2016), https://usdaoig.oversight.gov/reports/audit/fns-controls-over-snap-benefits-able-bodied-adults-without-dependents ↩︎
  5.  Louisiana Workforce Commission, Louisiana Workforce at a Glance, April 2024 ↩︎