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Cutting SNAP Benefits Would Cost WV Economy

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Critics say, unlike much of the country, West Virginia's unemployment rate is still too high to restrict access to SNAP benefits. (WV Center on Budget and Policy)
Critics say, unlike much of the country, West Virginia's unemployment rate is still too high to restrict access to SNAP benefits. (WV Center on Budget and Policy)
 By Dan HeymanContact
February 3, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Some state lawmakers want to make it harder for single adults to collect SNAP benefits. Critics say that would cost West Virginia's economy tens of millions of dollars a year. A plan at the legislature would make it more difficult for adults without dependents or disabilities to collect from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps.

But since SNAP is a federal program, that could cost the state about $70 million a year, much of it spent at local grocery stores and farmers markets. The Rev. Brian O'Donnell, executive secretary of the Catholic Conference of West Virginia, helps administer the state's Catholic charities.

"Why would you turn off this flow of monies? No one is banking SNAP benefits," says O'Donnell. "They spend them, because they desperately need them."

During the Great Recession when unemployment was at its peak, the federal government opened SNAP to adults without dependents or disabilities. As the unemployment rate has fallen in other states, they have closed that window. But Sean O'Leary, senior policy analyst with the West Virginia Center On Budget and Policy, notes the unemployment rate is still high here, especially for those with less education.

"If you've got a college degree, then it's pretty easy for you to find a job," he says. "If you have a high school education and you can't stand on your feet all day, it's a different story."

Under the proposal, able-bodied adults without dependents would have to meet work or education requirements to keep their SNAP benefits beyond three months. That rule is now in effect in nine low-unemployment counties, and some legislators want to make it statewide. O'Donnell says the rule might make sense in places with plenty of work but since most of the state is still lagging, cutting federal funds would only make it harder for job-seekers.

"They're going to work where? I mean, the problem in the counties is there are no jobs," says O'Donnell. "And in those counties, to cut off federal funds coming in would really be a hit."

Some Republican lawmakers charge some able-bodied adults have become dependent on the program and should be looking for work.

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