You Better Work: Unconstitutional Work Requirements and Food Oppression

Andrea Freeman - William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai‘i
Vol. 53
February 2020
Page 1531

Work requirements attached to the receipt of welfare (TANF) and food stamps (SNAP) disproportionately harm people of color. They arose out of unfounded fears of fraud based on racial stereotypes like the Welfare Queen. While food assistance helps raise households out of poverty, work requirements do not. Instead, they lead to greater food insecurity by removing people from the program through sanctions and deterring others from registering. The nature of the work performed to satisfy work requirements — unskilled and low wage — rarely leads to long-term, gainful employment. When new mothers leave the home to satisfy welfare work requirements, they have no choice but to formula feed their babies. Leveraging hunger to compel low-wage work has been a tool of oppression since slavery. Exercising control over parenting and infant feeding also echoes back to the brutal practices of that period. You Better Work argues that the harmful effects of TANF and SNAP work requirements are unconstitutional under Equal Protection, Substantive Due Process, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the Unconstitutional Conditions Doctrine.

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