Both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill Saturday evening that imposes a 20-hour per week work requirement on certain able-bodied adults without dependents in order to receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
It’s now in the hands of Gov. Jim Justice to approve of or veto the bill.
While a conference committee re-imposed a statewide implementation date of the work requirements into the bill, it moved the deadline to 2022 instead of 2021.
The Senate Judiciary Committee removed that deadline from the House-passed bill earlier this week, enabling residents of counties with 12-month average unemployment rates above 10 percent, or 24-month unemployment rates 20 percent above the national average to receive waivers from the work requirements.
Those standards are in effect under the bill from October 2018 until the 2022 statewide implementation.
The bill passed on a 73-23 vote in the House and 24-9 vote in the Senate.
Instead of creating unique exemptions, the final bill points to federal code as to who is exempt from the work requirements. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, requirements will apply to people aged 18 to 49 who have no dependents and are not disabled.
To meet the work requirements, one must engage in either paid work, volunteering or workforce training for 20 hours per week, with certain exemptions.
However, people can still receive SNAP benefits for three months without meeting the work requirement.
The conference committee comprised of senators and delegates who came to a compromise did so within about five minutes. However, the first time they met, they did so in the rear of the House chamber. Because two doorkeepers were not made aware of the meeting, two people following the bill, Betty Rivard and lobbyist Seth DiStefano, were not able to attend the meeting due to lack of floor privileges.
The committee opted to repeat its meeting on the steps outside the chamber.
Throughout debate of the bill, Democratic lawmakers have argued the bill does nothing to improve employment or work participation rates among the population it targets. Instead, it will expand food insecurity and overburden area food pantries.
Additionally, as Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said, this bill will likely lead to homeless and mentally ill people who would generally be shunned by employers or volunteer organizations, to lose their benefits.
Republicans, meanwhile, argued the bill incentivizes people to get back to work, and that the volunteering language in the bill is broad enough to include tasks as doable as mowing the neighbor’s yard, and far from onerous enough to force people to go hungry.
In response to concerns about the homeless, DHHR Deputy Secretary Jeremiah Samples said during the committee process the department is working on ways to target homeless individuals who may fall through the cracks to keep them included.
Along with the work requirements, the bill also increases reporting responsibilities on those applying for SNAP benefits, and gives the Department of Health and Human Resources more latitude to investigate potential SNAP fraud.
It also requires the department to update the Legislature on the outlook of the program.
- Both houses unanimously adopted a joint resolution to put a proposed Constitutional amendment on the November ballot to give the Legislature oversight of the judicial branch budget (S.J.R. 3).
If approved by voters, future Legislatures would be able to set budgets for the judicial branch, instead of having to approve whatever budget the state Supreme Court requests.
As part of a conference committee compromise Saturday, any budget that would reduce the judicial branch appropriation by 15 percent or more would have to be approved by two-thirds majorities in both houses.
- The House concurred in Senate amendments, passed 87-11 and sent to the governor legislation that would bar private businesses or associations from prohibiting employees or customers from having firearms in vehicles parked on their property (H.B. 4187).
Called the “Business Liability Protection Act,” the bill has actually been opposed by business groups, including the state Business and Industry Council, which called the bill “an unwarranted and unnecessary intrusion on any business owner’s property rights.”
The House agreed to Senate amendments, including an amendment clarifying that businesses may prohibit employees from having firearms in company owned or leased vehicles.
The House also concurred in Senate amendments, passed 86-12 and sent to the governor legislation to would weaken current prohibitions on having firearms at school-sponsored functions taking place in locations off of school campuses (S. B. 244). The Senate earlier Saturday passed the bill 32-1, with Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, voting no.
Critics of that bill contend it is designed to nullify a 2017 Kanawha Circuit Court ruling allowing cities to ban firearms in municipal recreation centers that lease space to school systems for afterschool programs.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones has said the city may have to eliminate after-school programs or even close city rec centers if the bill becomes law.