AP File Photo/Mark Zaleski / Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill earlier this week, reinstating work requirements for able-bodied recipients of benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

It passed by with little notice earlier this week, but Tennesseans without dependents who are receiving temporary government assistance, and can work, now must work (or participate in job training or do volunteer work).

A bill reinstating such a requirement for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — which had been halted during the COVID-19 pandemic — passed the state Senate 27-6 on April 13 and passed unanimously in the state House on April 18. Gov. Bill Lee signed the measure on Monday, and the requirements go into effect immediately.

The pandemic, and a panoply of federal and state relief bills since its beginning in March 2020, had made it easy for too many people across the country to stay home and not participate in the workforce.

However, the easing of virus cases, the availability of free vaccines and the improvement of medicines to treat the sickest of patients have minimized the excuses not to work for the able-bodied for months now.

The bill itself requires at least 20 hours of work per week for Tennesseans still receiving SNAP assistance or that they at least participate in volunteer work or that they receive job training of some kind.

It only applies to people ages 18 to 49, exempts those with dependents and does not require such effort from people who are physically unable to work.

(Tennessee's last-dollar college scholarship for adults to attend a community college tuition-free, Tennessee Reconnect, makes it even easier for those without a degree and not working to earn new skills to take back into the workforce.)

A larger workforce means only good things for the U.S. economy. Among other things, it means businesses can operate more efficiently, more goods can be produced and that inflation in time will reduced because the number of goods being produced (or services offered), and the price of them, will more accurately reflect the need for them rather than an inflated price because of their relative scarcity.

The Volunteer State's March unemployment rate was a low 3.2%, but it does not count those not looking for work.

In November, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Tennessee in the upper half of states with the highest percentage of open jobs as a share of all jobs. It had 232,000 job openings that month, with its share of open jobs as a percent of all jobs at 6.9% — much lower than Alaska's 8.8% but much higher than Delaware's 5.8%.

A 24/7 Wall St. report put it this way: "Currently, the labor force participation rate — the share of Americans 16 and older either working or looking for work — stands at 61.9%, a low not seen in the pre-pandemic United States since 1977."

Tennessee first passed the SNAP work-requirements bill in 2018, and it was signed by then-Gov. Bill Haslam. In March 2020, the federal government offered temporary flexibility over such requirements during the pandemic.

The governor attempted to spur those able to work back into the job ranks last July when he became the last Mid-South governor to announce that the state would no longer accept the extra $300 federal unemployment benefit for nonworking residents.

"We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state," Lee said at the time.

Federal pandemic unemployment benefits for those who had lost their job, or were able bodied but not working, ended Sept. 6, 2021.

Several other federal COVID relief programs — such as one covering mortgages or rent, and one pausing the payment of principal and interest payments on public student loans until at least Aug. 22 of this year — remain in place, making the reinstating of the work requirement even more important.

An amendment to the bill reinstating the work requirements orders the Department of Human Services to submit a report to the General Assembly by Oct. 31, 2022, and each subsequent year, detailing the number of times in which a waiver of, or exemption to, work requirements under the SNAP was sought, applied for, accepted, or renewed by the department in the preceding federal fiscal year.

The department also would have to receive approval from the General Assembly before it could provide any further exemptions to the work requirement put in place for SNAP benefits.

Our hope is that the reinstatement of the work requirements spurs a new desire for nonworking, able-bodied Tennesseans to take a look at what is available for them in the state and take advantage of those opportunities to not only help themselves but become productive members of the economy, which would be a boon to all state residents.