Another “you can’t make this stuff up” bill has emerged in the final days of the 2015 state legislative session. Under an amendment tacked on to a bill originally designed to target the employment of undocumented immigrants, SNAP benefits (i.e. Food Stamps) would be made significantly harder to obtain for childless adults in struggling parts of North Carolina.
SNAP benefits are limited under federal law to three months out of every three years for childless, non-disabled adults unless they are working at least half time, participating in a qualified job training program for 20 hours a week, or in workfare. This time limit applies regardless of whether these individuals are actually able to find employment or training opportunities.
This can obviously work a great hardship. In North Carolina, for example, 83 counties actually have more jobless workers than job openings.
Thankfully, federal allows states to suspend the time limit in areas with high unemployment. As a result, every state except Delaware has waived the time limit for at least part of their state at some point. During the recent recession, many states qualified for state-wide waivers from the time limit. Most states will have to reimpose the time limit for at least part of their state in 2016. North Carolina has already applied for a waiver for 77 of the state’s 100 counties — i.e. the ones with high unemployment rates.
Absurdly, however, under the new provision, the Department of Health and Human Services would be barred from applying for a waiver, effectively reimposing the time limit even though parts of the state qualify for a waiver due to high unemployment. This unnecessarily restricts food assistance for poor childless adults in areas where the economy has not yet fully recovered.
This bill would further prevent the state from ever requesting a waiver, removing an important state response to future economic downturns.
The bottom line: If the bill becomes law, a large number of hurting North Carolinians in some of the state’s least healthy communities will lose yet another small lifeline that allows them to survive. On the day Pope Francis is receiving global accolades for calling on Americans to help the poor, North Carolina lawmakers are, once more, doing the exact opposite.
Adjournment of the 2015 session cannot come soon enough.
Rob Schofield is the Director of Research and Policy Development for N.C. Policy Watch.