Streamlining SNAP for the Gig Economy: Simplified Self-Employment Deductions

In the United States, more than one in four workers earn some or all their income through the broadly defined “gig economy.” There’s an effective policy option that can help ensure this growing workforce – made up of Uber drivers, artists, housekeepers, freelance contractors, child-care workers, and other self-employed individuals – gains easier access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Implementing a Simplified Self-Employment Deduction policy option is especially critical now, because, while the trend towards gig work has been underway for well over a decade, the coronavirus and the resulting economic fallout will likely accelerate this shift.

With fifteen years of experience in the benefits access space, we have a keen interest in understanding how specific populations engage with benefit programs, and we aim to identify and remedy barriers to access. Even before the current health emergency, a growing number of self-employed workers (including gig workers) were eligible for SNAP. Between 2006 and 2018, the number of SNAP participants reporting self-employment income almost tripled from 365,000 to 939,000 households.

snap participants with self-employment graph

Though the gig economy is growing, the way traditional SNAP eligibility determinations are designed does not reflect the new reality of how many people earn their income today. The challenge is that under rules in most states, people who are self-employed, including gig workers, must navigate an overly complex application process, discouraging them from applying. Reducing barriers for self-employed workers to apply for SNAP by implementing a Simplified Self-Employment Deduction policy would recognize this growing segment of the workforce and offer them an easier way to meet their basic needs.

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