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WV Food Banks Fear Cuts to SNAP and TANF

West Virginia food banks say tightening access to state safety-net programs will add pressure on feeding programs. (Letsmove.gov/USDA)
West Virginia food banks say tightening access to state safety-net programs will add pressure on feeding programs. (Letsmove.gov/USDA)
February 15, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Lawmakers may tighten access to West Virginia safety-net programs but food banks in the state say that would only raise the pressure on already-stretched feeding programs.

Legislation would expand work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly food stamps, and add drug testing for some on Temporary Assistance To Needy Families (TANF).

Legislators have criticized what they describe as waste and abuse in the programs. But Cynthia Kirkhart, executive director with the Facing Hunger Food Bank in Huntington, says that badly underestimates the real level of hunger in the state.

"When benefits are reduced, the demand for food increases pretty dramatically," says Kirkhart.

According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, more than four out of five households receiving SNAP benefits in any given month have incomes below half the federal poverty line. Sean O'Leary, senior policy analyst with the center, says the folks on SNAP and TANF are generally the poorest of the poor.

"Low-income families with children, who are working as hard as they can, as much as they can," says O'Leary. "And those who are disabled or struggling to find work because of a lack of education or lack of skills."

According to O'Leary, the other states that have tried drug testing for assistance have found the rate of drug abuse in the programs is no higher than in the general population. He adds drug testing typically costs far more than it saves in reduced benefits. O'Leary says some of the changes being billed as "welfare reforms" could end up costing the state millions of dollars.

The benefits offered by the program are really minimal, according to Kirkhart. She points out the average TANF benefit is $340 a month for a household, and she says SNAP benefits are no more generous.

"It's basically $1.40 per person per meal," says Kirkhart. "So when you reduce it even further, the demand for more food just grows exponentially."

Supporters of the legislation say it will push more able-bodied adults into the workforce. Critics point out that most beneficiaries are unable to work, or can't find employment.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV