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Legislature works out disagreement over deadline for food stamp work requirement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Houses of West Virginia’s Legislature worked out a disagreement over a bill dealing with work requirements for food stamp eligibility, establishing a 2022 deadline for compliance.

Another change essentially made exceptions to a work requirement more closely mirror federal law.

Late Saturday night, each house approved a conference committee report. The Senate approved the bill, 24-9. The House passed it 73-23. The bill now goes to Gov. Jim Justice.

The bill has been controversial all session long.

On Saturday morning, the House of Delegates refused to concur, 62-36, with changes to the bill that were made in the Senate. The Senate had removed the deadline for compliance.

That set up the conference committee to work out differences.

The Senate had appointed senators Mike Maroney and Ryan Weld, Republicans, and Robert Plymale, a Democrat, to the conference committee.

The House’s conferees were delegates John Shott and Ray Hollen, Republicans, and Joe Canestraro, a Democrat

The conference committee met a first time Saturday evening in the back of the House chambers. It wasn’t so much a meeting as it was conferees signing papers. House doorkeepers, who didn’t recognize what was supposed to be a meeting was taking place, kicked some lobbyists out.

A few minutes later, lawmakers announced the meeting would take place a second time outside the House chamber. This time the meeting was more orderly with the results of the conference more clear.

That was all set up because the House on Saturday morning did not agree with a Senate amendment from earlier this week.

John Shott

Shott, the House Judiciary chairman, said lawmakers at least needed to talk over changes that were made in the bill.

“The breadth of the exclusion from the work requirement certainly needs further discussion,” Shott said on the House floor Saturday morning.

“I’m really concerned that we basically made it so there won’t be anybody required to work under this program.”

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.

Tom Fast

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

“That is the basis of this bill,” said Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, one of the original sponsors. “This really guts the bill.”

Democrats in the House pushed to keep that change, saying the House should concur.

Larry Rowe

“The Senate looked at this bill and made humane amendments,” said Delegate Larry Rowe, R-Kanawha. “They’re humane, they’re decent and they do help a very bad bill.”

Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, agreed.

“This was a difficult bill for a lot of us,” Lovejoy said. “The Senate has made what was not a very good bill a little better.”

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