Hunger Has No Time Limits

A 54-year-old grandmother cares for her grandchildren nearby so that her daughter can work.  

A 50-year-old man works part time because he cannot afford to leave his aging mother home alone. 

These are among the thousands of people who rely on our country’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to afford food. But thanks to the recent debt ceiling deal, they may now be forced to go hungry.  


Well, because that deal expanded “time limits.” 

Under current law, most nondisabled adults aged 18-49 without children in their homes can only receive SNAP benefits for three months in a three-year period unless they can document that they are working or participating in a job training program for 20 hours per week, or can prove they qualify for an exemption (because, for example, they have a severe disability or a dependent child). 

As if these existing time limits weren’t harsh enough, our government somehow decided it was a good idea to extend that time limit to SNAP recipients aged 50-54 and require them to obtain, maintain, and report 80 hours of work in a month as part of the recent debt ceiling deal. 

Mind-boggling, I know.  

And also, really stupid. 

Several studies have shown that time limits do not actually improve employment or earnings, but rather operate to take away SNAP benefits—particularly from women, communities of color, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities.  

The reality is that these time limits are used to humiliate and demonize women and people of color, especially Black women, for accessing public benefits like SNAP. They are rooted in the dangerous lie that people experiencing poverty not only don’t work, but don’t want to work either. This stems from a long history of racist narratives that blame women of color, rather than inequitable systems, for their own poverty.  

However, the truth is that SNAP has proven beneficial for decades, and the expansion of time limits hinders progress and will increase food insecurity. For example, substantial research on SNAP has shown: 

  • SNAP reduces the overall prevalence of food insecurity, providing nutrition assistance to more than 42.6 million people in January 2023.  
  • SNAP moved about 2.8 million people out of poverty as measured by the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) in 2021, including nearly 1.2 million women. 
  • SNAP helps “nearly 4 million non-elderly adults who either receive disability benefits or have work-limiting health conditions.” 

These numbers reinforce what we already know: SNAP is critical for reducing hunger in this country and expanding time limits will negatively impact those that benefit the most from SNAP.  

Another important thing to note is that most people who receive SNAP benefits who can work, DO work.  

They’re either already trying to meet these time limits or they’re facing serious challenges that prevent them from documenting sufficient hours. For an example, let’s take the “gig economy.” In 2020, one in four U.S. workers received some or all of their income through the gig economy, which is made up of Uber drivers, artists, or other self-employed individuals. However, it’s hard to earn a livable wage from gig work alone, so many gig workers are eligible for SNAP benefits. The thing is though, in most states, people who receive SNAP must navigate complex application processes that are difficult and time-consuming. Specifically, the burden of documenting self-employment expenses is one of the main reasons gig workers do not participate in SNAP. So, despite working, they lose out on SNAP benefits because the eligibility process is unnecessarily complicated. 

The bottom line is SNAP time limits don’t lead to more people working or enjoying economic stability. Instead, they increase hardship.  

Thankfully, Congress has an opportunity to change course and undo this terrible debt ceiling concession. Specifically, the 2023 Farm Bill presents an important opportunity for our leaders to strengthen SNAP and protect it from harmful cuts. As our country continues to recover from COVID-19 and food prices remain high due to inflation, it is vital that SNAP benefits are restored, strengthened, and additional restrictions or cuts aren’t imposed in the next Farm Bill.