600 Income Security:Set a Work Requirement for Able-Bodied Adult Food Stamp Recipients

Savings in Millions of Dollars
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
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  • 2021
  • 2022
  • 2023
  • 2024
  • 2025
  • 2016-2020
  • 2016-2025


Savings are calculated based on the current level of 4.5 million able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) receiving food stamps in FY 2013 at a monthly benefit of $200 (see Characteristic of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2013, Table A.15, p. 51. This adds up to a total cost of roughly $10.8 billion annually. It is projected that a work requirement would result in the ABAWD caseload dropping by half, yielding an annual savings of $5.4 billion.


Technical Notes on Scoring

CBO Baseline

Unless otherwise noted, calculations for savings for each recommendation relies on the most recent Congressional Budget Office baseline, as found in “An Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” published August 27, 2014, has been used.

Savings “Totals”

While totals for the five and 10 year savings are provided by section and for the complete set of recommendations, there are two reasons they should not be viewed as representing total savings for The Budget Book.

First, as noted in the introduction, The Heritage Foundation would recommend that the savings realized in the Function 050 Defense section would stay within the Department of Defense to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities.

Second, the numbers cannot be deemed to represent the realized savings if every single recommendation were adopted because policy changes made in one program can impact spending levels in other programs.  Thus, the numbers in the table do not reflect any potential interactions between the various policy changes affecting spending or savings.


Heritage Recommendation:

Reform the food stamps program to include a work requirement for able-bodied adults. Able-bodied adults must work, prepare for work, or look for work for a minimum number of hours each month in order to receive benefits. This proposal saves approximately $5.4 billion annually, and $54 billion over 10 years.


Reform food stamps program to include work requirements for able-bodied adults.

The food stamps program is one of the largest of the federal government’s roughly 80 means-tested welfare programs. Food stamp spending increased from roughly $20 billion in FY 2000 to nearly $40 billion in FY 2007. Between FY 2008 and FY 2012, it doubled again to approximately $80 billion. Some of the growth in food stamp spending was due to the recession, but government policies have also made it easier for people to get on the rolls and remain there.

Food stamp assistance should be directed to those most in need. Able-bodied adults who receive food stamps should be required to work, prepare for work, or look for work in exchange for receiving assistance. Not only do work requirements help ensure that food stamps are directed to those who need them most, a work requirement also promotes the principle of self-sufficiency by directing individuals towards work.

Reform food stamps program to include work requirements for able-bodied adults.

Contributing Expert

Robert Rector, a leading authority on poverty, welfare programs and immigration in America for three decades, is The Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow in domestic policy.

See publications by Robert Rector

Robert RectorSenior Research Fellow

Heritage Expert

Rachel Sheffield focuses on welfare, marriage and family, and education as policy analyst in the DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.

See publications by Rachel Sheffield

Rachel SheffieldPolicy Analyst

Additional Reading