Angela Rachidi of the American Enterprise Institute recently offered Congress ideas for improving a major federal program.

As this committee considers a Farm Bill for 2023, I wanted to highlight two key issues as itrelates to SNAP: employment and health. … In the course of my research, three key themes have emerged. First, consistent and sustained employment is one of the most crucial ingredients for reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility, along with family structure. Second, poor health is one of the largest barriers to employment for low-income Americans. Third, SNAP’s lack of dietary guidelines often leaves its recipients in poor health, preventing them from working and escaping poverty. …

… Employment must be a clear goal of SNAP for two reasons. First, employment provides the only realistic path for low-income households to escape poverty and move up the income ladder. As we learned from welfare reform in 1996, when government assistance programs add an employment expectation, benefit recipients respond by going to work and improving their wellbeing. Second, low levels of labor force participation and high numbers of job openings suggest that there are ample jobs for all Americans. The latest jobs report showed strong job growth and the national unemployment rate remains below 4 percent. However, it also showed a labor force participation rate far below levels from a decade ago as older Americans have exited the labor force and prime-age workers have failed to pick up the slack. The implication is that the US labor market needs more workers; and safety net programs such as SNAP must encourage, not discourage, labor force participation.

Despite the benefits of employment to individuals and the broader economy, work-capable SNAP participants have very low employment rates, partly because SNAP disincentivizes work, as research has shown. … We found that the employment-to-population ratio among non-disabled SNAP participants without dependents – often called ABAWDs –has hovered between 15 and 30 percent over time.