By Jake Zuckerman
Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill into law Tuesday that will impose work requirements on certain adults receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Justice did not issue a release or convene any news conference to break the news, though the Legislature's website quietly noted the change. Butch Antolini, communications director for Justice, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Starting Oct. 1, 2018, any able-bodied adult -- a person between 18 and 49 years of age without dependents -- must either work, volunteer or participate in workforce training programs for 20 hours per week to receive SNAP benefits.
Specifically, the bill rescinds West Virginia's ability to allow the Department of Health and Human Resources to issue waivers to SNAP recipients from the federal work requirements for able-bodied working adults.
However, people in counties with a 12-month average unemployment rate above 10 percent, a 24-month average unemployment rate 20 percent above the national average for the same period, or a "labor surplus area" as designated by the U.S. Department of Labor, can receive the waivers until October 2022.
At that point, barring a change in state law, no able-bodied working adults in the state can receive waivers from the work requirement.
Those who do not receive a waiver and do not meet the work requirements can receive SNAP benefits for up to three months every three years.
The bill also requires DHHR to report the employment impact of the work requirements, SNAP caseload and other figures to the Legislature on a county-by-county basis.
Nine counties in the state have undergone a pilot program of SNAP work requirements. According to DHHR's analysis of the pilot program, it did not have a significant impact on employment figures for the population of able-bodied adults without dependents, although it did slash the SNAP caseload.
However, DHHR staffers walked back these findings at committee hearings on the bill.
According to data released in February from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14.9 percent of West Virginian households faced food insecurity between 2014 and 2016, a 5.6 percent increase from 10 years ago. Likewise, West Virginia households receiving SNAP benefits increased 50 percent between 2006 and 2016, which is the 40th smallest increase during that time period in the U.S.
Additional data from WV Foodlink, a project of the Food Justice Laboratory at West Virginia University, shows just under 330,000 West Virginians received SNAP benefits in 2017, including one in three children in the state.
Seth DiStefano, the policy outreach director for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy who lobbied against the bill during the legislative session, said in a statement that Justice has reneged on his promise to not hurt people by signing the bill and ignored overwhelming opposition at a public hearing during the legislative session.
Justice also signed House Bill 4015 into law, which will increase reporting requirements on the state vehicle fleet and gives the State Auditor's Office latitude to conduct spot compliance audits for compliance.
He also put his signature on House Bill 4150, which prohibits telemarketers from transmitting inaccurate or misleading caller identification information to disguise an incoming call.
(c)2018 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)