Changes will be coming to the federal government’s food assistance program.
Thousands of Hawaii residents who are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, could be impacted.
Normally, able bodied adults without dependents would have to be working or take part in employment training programs or they would only be eligible for 3 months of SNAP benefits. But ever since the pandemic began, the state applied for and received waivers to eliminate that requirement.
“We requested those waivers because of the impact of the pandemic on employment and our higher unemployment rate. Hawaii is still experiencing higher unemployment,” stated Dept. of Human Services Administrator Scott Morishige.
Hawaii’s unemployment rate is slightly higher now than before the pandemic – when it hovered around 2%. After spiking at more than 20% when the pandemic shut things down, the state’s unemployment rate has steadily fallen and is now stands at just over 3%.
In fact, according to employment experts, those looking for work not only have more choices but also more bargaining power when it comes pay and benefits.
“It is a tough market right now for employers. Not for those looking for work, but for employers,” said Ann Boyd, Goodwill Hawaii’s Dir. of Workforce Development.
At Goodwill Hawaii’s employment training center, not only do they help people get entry level jobs but they also train and encourage workers to move up to bigger and better positions.
“We’re that personal cheerleader that gives them that inspiration, telling them ‘you can do this with practice’,” added Boyd.
Thousands more Hawaii residents could be returning to jobs, as the federal government raises the work requirement for SNAP beneficiaries from age 49 to age 54.
“Work requirements would apply to those age 50-54, who may find it challenging to return to the workforce,” stated Morishige.
Those are just some of the 153,000 individuals in Hawaii currently receiving SNAP benefits. Those numbers are UP compared to before the pandemic.
When the state’s current employment waiver ends at the end of June, there is concern this additional requirement will mean some families will miss out on much needed food.
“This would impact a vulnerable population and make it harder to put food on the table for themselves and their families,” added Morishige.
He said Hawaii will apply for another waiver, in an attempt to extend benefits without requiring residents to work. We will find out in a few weeks, if the federal government grants the state another waiver.
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