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Full Senate will vote on expanding work requirements for nutrition benefits for adults without dependents

The full Senate will vote on a bill that would expand requirements for work or employment training for able-bodied adults without dependents for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Senate Finance Committee reviewed the bill Tuesday afternoon and advanced it.

 SB 562 extends the age range for people affected to 59. The age range for current procedures is from 18 to 52.

And the bill would establish requirements to report information about how the program is working to a legislative oversight committee. There’s a three-year implementation schedule for the changes.

A lingering question about the bill has been about hidden financial costs for the state to implement the changes.

Bob Plymale

Senator Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, asked about financial effects on the Bureau for Family Assistance, which administers SNAP. “Is that covered through the administrative side, or is there additional funding?” he asked.

The Senate bill does not provide additional funding for oversight of the changes.

“The funding would come out of the department,” said Cynthia Persily, secretary for the state Department of Human Services.

Kent Nowviskie, deputy director for programs and policy at the Bureau for Family Assistance, agreed. “Typically that is something we would absorb.”

Nowviskie previously told members of the Senate Workforce Committee that the agency draws down about $622,000 in federal funding for administrative costs, and that can be stretched a little farther through matches and partnerships.

He followed up by saying food banks that partner with the state nutrition program could be affected. “Any situation that potentially causes individuals to lose access to household income that can only be used to purchase food may impact food banks downstream,” he said.

Caitlin Cook

Following the meeting, Caitlin Cook of Mountaineer Food Bank expressed concern about the consequences of the bill, including the efficiency of the job program and the job requirements.

“Food banks talk to each other,” said Cook, director of advocacy and public policy for Mountaineer Food Bank. “We have partners in Ohio and Texas and Florida. Their states have chosen to implement state employment and training programs, and it’s not leading to people who are finding true self-sufficiency. It’s leading to more stress on the charitable food network.

“What we would like to see is more of an investment in the partnerships that we have now with the voluntary work program that really leads to careers that would enable people not to need SNAP food assistance or food assistance through the charitable food network.”

Mountaineer Food Bank shares a goal of helping people become more self-sufficient, Cook said, “but we just want to make sure the path we’re taking leads to more self-sufficiency instead of more hungry West Virginians.”

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