Kudos need to be given to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources for implementing the 20-hour-per-week work requirement for food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in nine counties (Berkeley, Cabell, Harrison, Jefferson, Kanawha, Marion, Monongalia, Morgan and Putnam.)
Helping those who fall on hard times is important, and we know the only long-term solution to poverty is work. Only 2.7 percent of full-time, year-round workers nationwide live in poverty, but nearly one-third of non-workers do, so work requirements are an important tool to make sure our programs aren’t trapping people in a life of dependency and helplessness.
These work requirements don’t apply to the disabled, those with children or the elderly. We’re not talking about grandma, we’re talking about the 28-year-old who’s hanging out on grandma’s couch.
The requirements apply only to able-bodied, childless adults under the age of 50 and would kick in only if the recipient does not find employment after 90 days. Those unable to find work will still be eligible if they enroll and participate in job training.
A small number of volunteer hours performed each month will also satisfy the law, ensuring our communities benefit from volunteer service while keeping the recipients engaged and active.
Work requirements are broadly popular across the political spectrum. A Rasmussen poll from 2012 put support for work requirements at 83 percent. Even a majority of Democrats polled believe that work requirements are a helpful tool in combating dependency and fraud.
While the DHHR selected the nine pilot counties because of their low unemployment rate, there should be no fear in expanding work requirements statewide.
For example, when Maine implemented work requirements in 2014, it saw its highest rate of compliance in its most rural counties where unemployment rates were the highest. It also prevents people from moving across county lines to simply continue their benefits based on their address.
Only New Mexico and the District of Columbia currently have a higher unemployment rate than the Mountain State.
The decline in the coal industry has been a cause of much misery, but the longer people find themselves out of work, the harder they find it to get back into the job market. That is why these work requirements are so vitally important.
Josh Archambault is senior fellow for The Foundation for Government Accountability.