POLITICS

What It's Like To Be On Food Stamps And Prove You're Looking For Work

Hint: It's a bit bureaucratic.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wants to make sure food stamp recipients are looking for work.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wants to make sure food stamp recipients are looking for work.

Becky Murphy of Summit Lake, Wisconsin, doesn't want to be one of the estimated 1 million Americans kicked off food stamps this year, so she's doing her homework. 

"Every week I have to meet with a caseworker, which requires driving about 18 miles to the nearest town, and I have to show him my 'activity report form,'" Murphy told "So That Happened," the HuffPost Politics podcast.  

Thanks to a federal policy change taking effect in most states, unemployed people who don't have kids will no longer be allowed to have more than three months of nutrition assistance unless they work at least 20 hours a week.

When it started implementing the policy last year, Wisconsin directed able-bodied adults without dependents who receive food stamps to the voluntary training program. The state is one of only five that has pledged to offer such a qualifying "work activity" to anyone who chooses to participate.

Murphy, 41, is enrolled in the FoodShare Employment & Training program. The form she fills out every week asks her things like whether she applied for a job, what kind job it was, how far she drove, and whether she sent an email following up on her application. The time Murphy spends on these activities can be added to the 20 hours per week she has to spend either working for pay or doing an approved work-like activity. 

Murphy said she's of two minds about the program. 

"I find it just a little bit demeaning because it's almost like, 'We don't trust you to be doing what you say you're doing, so you have to give us proof of it, and then we'll decide if we believe you or not,'" she said.

"I can understand, on the one hand, where they're coming from because they really don't want people abusing the system and just staying at home," she continued. "But those of us who are actively looking for a job, to have to be on government assistance and be treated like we're wasting the taxpayer's money, is kind of rude."

Roughly 18,000 Wisconsinites have enrolled in the program since April, according to the latest state data, and 4,500 enrollees have since become employed. At least 15,000 Wisconsin residents had stopped receiving benefits as of early December. 

"Governor Walker has invested over $50 million combined in his last two budgets to support FSET and these training efforts," Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in an email. "These reforms are part of our focus on moving people from government dependence to true independence and ensuring they are workforce ready. "

Murphy said she has worked in retail for the past several years, usually for about 20 or 30 hours per month. She lost her last job, at a store that sells pet food and accessories, after breaking her wrist in August and missing three months of work. 

Summit Lake isn't a major metropolitan area, so similar retail positions are not widely available. Murphy said she hopes meetings with a career counselor -- another requirement of the FoodShare training program -- can help point her in a new direction. She certainly doesn't want to lose the roughly $150 in monthly food assistance. She said she already leads a no-frills lifestyle. 

"I can't afford to go to the movies. I don't go out to eat," she said. "If I want new clothes, I go to Goodwill."   

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