America has a rich history of providing programs to meet the needs of the poor, the needy, the elderly and the disabled. More and more, however, we have seen attempts to undermine these programs in the name of fixing them.
One of the major justifications in this effort has been the false claim of fraud. This has been most prominent in the cases of voter registration. In state after state, “reforms” designed to eliminate voter fraud have been thrown out by the courts as little more than subtle attempts to suppress the votes of poor and/or minority populations.
More recently, we have seen somewhat similar tactics employed in the areas of health and social welfare programs. The process is all the more insidious in this case, because of the inability to appeal decisions in the courts. Voting is a right in America, but having food or health care is not.
In October 2017, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources issued an order requiring that applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families be tested for drug use. Officials with the DHHR estimated that the bill could flag 390 people in the first year, and that it would cost about $50,000 the first year.
Never mind that a 2011 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study had found that drug use among TANF recipients was barely above the general population and that no state implementing a drug testing program for TANF recipients estimated that it saved any money for the program.
The result? Earlier this year the DHHR reported that only four of the 873 applicants had tested positive — less than one-half of a percent at the cost of $12,500 per person caught.
Which brings us to the present. Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, and others introduced a bill to institute a work requirement for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That is, to further restrict access to healthy food for the most needy.
Once again, there is a claim of rampant fraud, but once again, only on an anecdotal basis.
Once again, there is a claim of savings, but no price tag has been set for the development and implementation of a vastly increased vetting process covering a broad array of national, state and local sources, and including the assets of all members of the applicant’s household.
And finally, there is, again, a question of effectiveness. During the period from May to December 2016, when the DHHR started dropping SNAP recipients from its roles, the Huntington City Mission saw a roughly 50 percent rise in the number of meals served to adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents — the target population for the current bill. Local churches, food banks and food pantries are feeling the stress of having to provide the food the government now denies.
To be sure, the language of fairness is employed throughout. The state will employ this requirement only “in counties where they deem there to be sufficient opportunities for recipients for work or volunteerism,” but nothing in the bill addresses how that will be determined and how it will be adjusted to ever-changing conditions.
Once again, we have a program justified on the mere suspicion of abuse that promises savings without providing adequate data.
Restricting access to food for the most needy under the guise of chasing fraud hardly seems the best use of the Legislature’s time and the taxpayers’ money. It’s called a safety net for a reason! Indeed, access to food security can actually increase the chances of someone working, which it seems was the whole idea in the first place!