Senate passes bill expanding work requirements for nutrition benefits up to age 59

Senators passed 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 bill passed on a 32-2 vote and now goes to the House of Delegates.

 SB 562 also 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.

Rollan Roberts

“I would describe this legislation as a compassionately structured three-year plan designed to gradually ween able-bodied adults without dependent children off of SNAP benefits,” said Senator Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, chairman of the workforce committee.

“I remind this body that SNAP stands for supplemental nutrition assistance program. We have gotten into a situation over the years where we have multi-generational dependency upon these benefits.”

Committee testimony indicated about 8,000 West Virginians could be affected by the changes.

There have been some concerns about whether the state agency that oversees SNAP would be stretched thin while implementing the changes because it receives $622,000 a year in federal funding for administrative costs.

And organizations like Mountaineer Food Bank have questioned whether the bill will result in people locked into low-wage jobs to comply with the requirements — while still dependent on food bank services.

Kelly Allen

“Research in West Virginia and around the country shows that taking food assistance away from older people does not increase work. Instead, it makes people hungrier, harms our retailers and grocers, and increases the burden on our charitable food sector,” said Kelly Allen, executive director of the progressive-leaning West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy.

“Lawmakers should focus on getting bills across the finish line that increase access to child care rather than hurting older West Virginians.”

Roberts in his Senate floor remarks suggested counties could use opioid settlement money to help people who might be affected by SNAP changes to successfully complete drug treatment programs to participate in the workforce.

“I will say also that retailers are in need of help and workers, and many of these people can be trained and get jobs with the retailers,” Roberts said.

“Some have said that this will will hurt or cause more of the need for the food banks to provide them food. I would say this, they can keep their benefits if they will volunteer 20 hours a week at the food banks and help us distribute the food. There are many opportunities that this bill will help put into action.”

Mike Caputo

Senator Mike Caputo, D-Marion, questioned why an estimate of the cost of implementing the changes has not been provided. He proposed moving the bill back to the Senate Finance Committee until those answers are clearer.

“Clearly one thing we know is, there’s going to be an impact,” Caputo said.

Eric Tarr

Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said he was assured during prior committee testimony that any financial impact would be negligible. He argued against recommitting the bill to his committee, and senators voted down the motion to do so 32-2.

“The Finance chairman has considered it,” Tarr said. “It does not need to go back to Finance.”

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