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WV Senate passes bill increasing SNAP work requirements, sends Crown Act to finance committee


WV Senate passes bill increasing SNAP work requirements, sends Crown Act to finance committee

Feb 23, 2024 | 4:39 pm ET
By Lori Kersey
WV Senate passes bill increasing SNAP work requirements, sends Crown Act to finance committee
The West Virginia Senate on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. approved a motion to refer the Crown Act, which would ban racial discrimination based on certain hair textures and hairstyles, to the Senate Finance Committee. (Will Price | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

The West Virginia Senate on Friday signed off on a bill that would increase the work and training requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps. 

Senators voted 32 to 2 to pass Senate Bill 562

With some exceptions, able-bodied people without kids ages 18 through 53 are required to participate in employment or training in order to receive SNAP. If SB 562 were to become law, those work and training requirements would be expanded to SNAP recipients up to age 59.

Speaking in support of the legislation, lead sponsor Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, called the bill a “compassionately structured, three-year plan to gradually wean able-bodied adults without dependent children off of SNAP benefits.”

“I remind this body that SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and we have over the years gotten into a situation where we have multigenerational dependency upon these benefits,” Roberts said. 

Roberts suggested that counties and cities use opioid settlement funds to help able-bodied adult SNAP recipients to successfully complete drug programs and become productive citizens and added that people affected could be trained to work with retailers in need of workers.

“Some have said that this bill will hurt or cause more of the need for food banks to provide them food,” Roberts said. “I would say this, they can keep their benefits if they’ll volunteer 20 hours a week at those food banks and help us distribute the food.”

The legislation is supported by the Opportunity Solutions Project, a partner organization to the conservative lobbying group Foundation for Government Accountability. 

Scott Centorino, deputy policy director for FGA, testified previously before the Senate Workforce Committee that expanding the requirements “can be done, and it should be done.” 

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and others have expressed concerns about the bill and its potential impact. 

Kelly Allen, director of the Center on Budget and Policy, said in an email that the center surveyed people who were subject to the current work requirements and the population is particularly vulnerable, especially as its applied to older people. 

“Among the [able-bodied adults without dependents] we interviewed in Mingo and Cabell counties, over 60% self-attested to physical or mental limitations, more than one-third were housing insecure, more than one-third lacked a high school diploma/GED, etc,” she said. 

“Essentially, the phrase/term ABAWD is a misnomer, as these are often folks that have dependents but are the non-custodial parent and these are often not able-bodied folks (but those who don’t have  a state- or federally-recognized disability designation),” Allen said in an email.

She said the center also has concerns about the state shifting from a voluntary to mandatory training and employment program. 

“Because it comes with no new state funding, the agency would essentially have to shift resources away from West Virginians who want to attain new job training skills and towards the 53-59 year olds impacted by this bill,” Allen said. “I’m not sure how that achieves the workforce goals of the Legislature, given we’d now be dedicating job training resources to folks who are nearing retirement age vs. those who might be in the workforce for decades to come.”

The bill would require any report by the Department of Human Services measuring data about the mandatory SNAP education and training program submitted to the federal government also be submitted to the ​Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCHHRA) and that the department make a list of employment and training resources available in each county office.

Senators voted down an attempt by Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, to recommit the bill to the Senate Finance Committee until a fiscal note outlining the cost of the bill is available.

During a previous committee meeting, a representative from the state Bureau of Human Services told lawmakers the bill would likely affect about 8,000 people and would require the use of part of the department’s administrative budget, but he did not have an exact number. A spokesman for the department on Friday said the Bureau for Family Assistance “continues to evaluate the population contemplated by the bill and is working to gauge the impact.”

The bill has no fiscal note, though one has been requested, Roberts said.

Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, agreed that there is “potentially a one-time expense” to the bill that can be considered once the fiscal note is available. 

“There’s no fiscal concern with this that can’t be handled relative to the discussions that we had in that committee back and forth between the senators on that committee which the senator from Marion also sits on that committee with me,” Tarr said. “So I appreciate his concern. I understand it. The chair has considered it. It does not need to go back to Finance.”

Earlier Friday, Tarr, R-Putnam, successfully moved Senate Bill 496, the Crown Act, to the Senate Finance Committee, which he chairs, saying that it has financial implications for several departments because of an increase of lawsuit settlements. 

Versions of the Crown Act, which would ban racial discrimination based on certain hair textures and hairstyles, have been introduced in the Legislature every year since 2020. Every previous version of the bill has died in committee except for this year,  when the Senate Judiciary on Thursday advanced it to the floor for a vote. 

Tarr also argued the Human Rights Commission would likely have to take up more cases and add more staff members if the Crown Act were to become law. 

Sen. Michael Woelfel, D-Cabell, argued that Tarr’s assumption of increased expenses is based on the assumption that West Virginians would discriminate against people, leading to an increase in cases. 

“West Virginians are not racists,” he said. “I agree with the chairman of judiciary … this will reduce costs.”

Tarr, through a spokesperson for the Senate, did not respond to a question about whether he intends to bring the Crown Act bill before the Finance Committee.