CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate passed a bill dealing with eligibility and fraud requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Senators passed the bill 27-6. The House would still need to concur with some amendments the Senate made in committee.

The bill would limit waivers on work requirements under federal law for counties with high unemployment rates.

Federal law allows waivers for counties if their 12-month average unemployment rate is above 10 percent, or if their 24-month average unemployment rate is 20 percent above the national average.

The West Virginia changes would affect able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-50 who do not have children or dependents, who are not pregnant and who don’t have a disability.

The bill says they must work, volunteer or participate in job training for 20 hours a week to qualify for food stamps.

An amendment passed on Thursday by the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee would remove a 2021 deadline for statewide implementation of the bill.

The bill also has the state Department of Health and Human Resources to develop a computer tracking database to “assist in the detection of fraud and misrepresentation by persons applying for benefits.”

Ron Stollings

Democrats in the Senate contended that low-income West Virginians will suffer because of the bill. They suggested that even the volunteerism aspect might be difficult to achieve for those who don’t have a vehicle or car insurance.

“You simply can’t go out and go somewhere and volunteer because they don’t have  car,” said Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone.”

Stollings said a 9-county pilot program in West Virginia has not had the intended results.

“It didn’t do anything with regard to workforce participation rate,” Stollings said.

Senator Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, who explained the bill, contended the changes will be worthwhile.

“I think what we’re trying to do is take a very hard look,” Takubo said.

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