About 2.7 million households, or 13 percent of all households that received food stamps at any time in 2011, consisted of single, childless, non-elderly, non-disabled adults who did not work. It’s not clear if or how food stamps discouraged them from working, as the program’s rules limit able-bodied working-age individuals to only three months’ worth of food stamps in any 36-month period.
Nevertheless, my plan would aim a powerful work incentive at this group by applying the earned-income tax credit fully to single, childless workers — which, perversely, is not the case at present. A new bill co-sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) includes that very suggestion, albeit not as a substitute for food stamps.
An obvious objection to my plan is that food stamps would no longer be there to bolster incomes in a recession. But that shouldn’t matter. Remember — part of the funding would go to an expanded and more generous unemployment insurance program.
Another obvious objection is that my plan would never work politically. That’s probably true. But, really, what’s not to like? For Republicans, there’s a stronger work incentive. For Democrats, there’s no reduction in the overall size of the safety net.
Lane’s approach might become more feasible if SNAP is separated from farm subsidies, as James recommends. And if it is linked to reforming unemployment insurance, e.g., moving to lump-sum payments, Lane’s proposal could do even more good.