A state Senate committee sent a bill to the floor Thursday that would impose work requirements on certain able-bodied adults without dependents in order to qualify for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which includes food stamp benefits.
However, the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee also passed an amendment from Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, that rescinds a 2021 deadline for statewide implementation of the bill (HB 4001).
Federal law imposes the work requirements nationwide, though it allows states to ask for waivers for counties if the counties’ 12-month average unemployment rate is above 10 percent, or their 24-month average unemployment rate is 20 percent above the national average.
The House-passed version of the bill prohibited all counties from applying for the waivers beginning in October 2021. However, a change supported by all the Democrats on the committee along with Republican Sens. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, and Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, scratched that deadline.
The updated bill passed via a voice vote.
Able-bodied adults without dependents are defined in the bill as people between the ages of 18 and 49 who are not disabled, pregnant, veterans or responsible for the care of a minor, a disabled person or someone over the age of 65.
Those who fall under the definition could receive SNAP benefits for three months before they either must meet the work requirements or lose their benefits.
The phrase “work requirement” has a fairly broad definition under the bill. It includes paid work, volunteering and workforce training — or any combination of the three — for at least 20 hours per week. The bill also lists certain exemptions to the 20-hour requirement like illness, a household emergency or others.
At the session, Seth DiStefano, policy outreach director for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, testified against the bill. He said data from the Department of Health and Human Resources’ nine-county pilot program of the legislation shows it lessened SNAP’s caseload in the pilot counties without increasing workforce participation, the general goal of the policy.
Likewise, he said it caused demand to spike for several food pantries across the different counties.
However, Jeremiah Samples, deputy secretary for DHHR, said there are certain limitations to the study. For one, it is now a year old. Secondly, he said DHHR’s ability to make economic analyses is limited, but a wealth of science shows increased workforce participation can decrease a number of major problems in West Virginia, from depression to substance abuse disorders, and this policy can boost that figure.
However, he said taking out the 2021 deadline should not hamstring these goals, from DHHR’s perspective.
Along with the work requirements, the bill also increases the reporting requirements in applying for SNAP, expands DHHR’s ability to investigate potential fraud and requires the department to report its findings on the merits of the program to the legislature.
Thursday marked the last day for a bill to get from committee to the floor unless a super-majority from either chamber votes to suspend procedural rules.