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SNAP Work Requirement Could Stress Food Charities

Some grocery stores are using subtle cues to point out good food choices.
Some current SNAP recipients will no longer be able to receive benefits to help with buying healthy food once the pandemic declaration ends.

Impending changes to the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will put a work requirement in place for some West Virginia residents who rely on the program to buy groceries.

About 168,000 low-income households in West Virginia use SNAP, and the state is fourth in the nation for residents using emergency food assistance.

SNAP is a federal program and states have discretion over how they run it. The impending changes in West Virginia are due to a 2018 state law that set a work requirement that requires able-bodied adults without dependents to work 20 hours a week to receive benefits. Lawmakers said the overhaul to SNAP was to combat program fraud.

The law gave counties the ability to waive that work requirement, including rural counties with limited jobs, but under the legislation that expired Oct. 1 of this year.

The current federal health emergency under COVID-19 bans states from cutting off emergency benefits like SNAP.

But once President Joe Biden expires the federal COVID/pandemic emergency order, the work requirement goes into effect for all 55 counties regardless of their job or poverty rates.

Right now, the work requirement will impact around 24,000 SNAP recipients around the state, according to West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources data. Thousands of SNAP recipients will be unenrolled from benefits if they’re unable to prove they’re working the required hours.

Cyndi Kirkhart, director of Facing Hunger Food Bank in Huntington, said the impending change will drive more people to already-struggling food charities. The food bank is currently serving 25 percent more people than it was pre-pandemic.

“Many of the part-time positions that are available for folks, they aren’t guaranteed hours, so folks will really be concerned about meeting those minimums,” Kirkhart said. “Historically, we’ve seen people have to work more than one part-time job so that their benefits would be maintained.”

Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, introduced legislation last session to allow counties to continue waiving the work requirement. The bill didn’t make it into committee for discussion.

While Clements said that he wants to see people that receive benefits working, he understands that it’s not an option for all state residents who rely on SNAP.

“We often have other restrictions that can prohibit it from happening. While they don't have dependents, they may have to take care of someone like an elderly parent or something,” he said. “To just arbitrarily say, ‘No county is eligible for this thing,’ I think is not necessarily good.”

Clements plans to reintroduce the legislation in the 2023 session that would allow counties to waive the work requirement.

Reporter, aknisely@wvpublic.org

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