Lawmakers seek to add additional work program requirements to SNAP eligibility guidelines. Opponents say the change would mean less food for 75,000 West Virginians, including children.
By La Shawn Pagán
for Mountain State Spotlight
This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. For more stories from Mountain State Spotlight, visit www.mountainstatespotlight.org.
Up to a quarter of the 300,000 West Virginians enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are at risk of losing the benefits they need to feed themselves and their families, if a new bill introduced by lawmakers comes to pass.
“The way it is written, it’s taking away food assistance from 75,000 West Virginians, including 30,000 children,” said Caitlin Cook, director of advocacy and public policy at Mountaineer Food Bank.
Federal guidelines say anyone who meets the income requirements for SNAP qualifies, as long as they’re in a job training program, doing volunteer work or are employed at least on a part-time basis.
But if SB 562 becomes law, it would require state agencies to assign participants to a job or training program, unless they’re working at least 30 hours a week or fall under another exemption.
“There’s a lot of classist assumptions being made about people enrolled in SNAP, and I think this bill deeply reflects that,” said Rhonda Rogombe, the health and safety net policy analyst at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy. “I have seen so many studies, and even seen evidence in our own state, that forcing people to meet work requirements does not increase employment, but it does increase hunger.”
One in six West Virginians were enrolled in the SNAP program last year, according to a report from the former Department of Health and Human Resources.
With cost of living on the rise and salaries remaining the same, thousands of West Virginians have resorted to applying for the benefits to help put food on the table.
SNAP benefits already underwent a change last year at the federal level: while people between 17-49 were already required to work or volunteer at least 80 hours a month, that was expanded to “able-bodied” adults between 50-54 years of age.
While SB 562 would give an exemption from the work requirement to parents who are full-time caretakers of a child under age six, Cook said the lack of consideration of parents of older children is a glaring omission.
“Anytime you take food out of the household, or you put barriers to food access, or that rule that is being applied to an adult, if there’s an adult with a child, that child is always impacted,” she said.
Plus, there are ripple effects. A lack of proper nutrition not only affects children and their ability to focus in school, but their parents and their ability to focus and perform at work according to Cook. Additionally, Rogombe said because SNAP makes people eligible for free or low cost child care, pushing them out of the program would exacerbate the state’s child care crisis.
The bill’s lead sponsor Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, declined to comment through spokesperson Jacque Bland. The bill is pending in the Senate Workforce Committee, and Bland said it is scheduled to be considered on Friday.