Cutting Food Assistance No Reason to Celebrate

Charleston Daily MailIn late March, a Daily Mail Opinion editorial exclaimed “Hallelujah!” in response to the signing of a bill that increases hardship for some of the most vulnerable West Virginians when times are tough (Public assistance done right under House Bill 4001, March 28, 2018). Story link

House Bill 4001 — commonly referred to as the “food stamp” bill — doubles down on a failed policy. It punishes people who are trying to find work as well as workers who don’t have a consistent 20-hour workweek. Here’s the thing — in 2016, West Virginia tried this in nine counties with little job placement success.

The 90-day time limits for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits did, however, drop 5,400 SNAP caseloads, subsequently increasing meals served at local food pantries in the pilot area by 30 percent and shut the door on more than $13 million federal SNAP dollars that otherwise would have been in our state’s economy.

Is this bill really worth celebrating? And if so, what is there to celebrate?

Gov. Jim Justice opted for the quiet route when signing his name to the bill. He held no press conference and gave no comment regarding House Bill 4001. The House of Delegates Republican leadership was also mute when their top priority bill was signed into law.

Strange. It’s possible taking food away from our neighbors in need isn’t the best optics.

Making sure folks’ basic needs are taken care of is central to who we are as West Virginians. We look after one another, especially when communities are dealing with tough times. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, is an extension of these core values.

Under House Bill 4001, a West Virginia veteran who suffers from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and struggles to hold down a 20-hour workweek could lose his SNAP benefits.

Forgive me if I don’t shout “Hallelujah” or ask for an “Amen” as we take food away from the men and women who have bravely served and protected our country.

We’re proud of our military service, and we should be, let’s make sure we’re doing the best we can for our veterans.

The bill falls terribly short for a lot of West Virginians. The state’s low-wage workforce that often uses SNAP because their work does not pay a living wage will be left behind when inconsistent work hours prevent them from working 20 hours per week.

The state’s seasonal workers — both in tourism and agriculture landscaping — many of whom earn an entire year’s worth of wages in three to six months will lose their SNAP benefits that keep food on the table in the off season.

This is just the beginning of who gets hurt when we embrace punitive measures and endless red tape as a condition of modest food assistance.

If there’s anything to celebrate here it’s not in the pain the bill will cause to our people and our economy — it’s in the fact that there are people willing to fight back for struggling low- and moderate-income West Virginians. It’s that we know this bill is counter to who we are as West Virginians.

So yes, Daily Mail, the opponents of House Bill 4001 will be as diligent in helping folks find and maintain work as we were in fighting this bill. We will push proven policies that build our state’s middle class and increase shared prosperity such as a minimum wage increase, a state Earned Income Tax Credit and Medicaid expansion.


Seth DiStefano serves as Policy Outreach Director for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

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