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Food Benefits Could End for Thousands of Unemployed Washingtonians

For some Washingtonians, SNAP food assistance benefits will be going away April 1. (Seemann/Morguefile)
For some Washingtonians, SNAP food assistance benefits will be going away April 1. (Seemann/Morguefile)
March 14, 2016

SEATTLE – Starting April 1, 15,000 Washington residents could lose benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program if they do not meet a work requirement.

The requirement applies to people 18 to 49 who are unemployed, able-bodied, and without dependents.

During the recession, a waiver had been in place that allowed them to receive extended benefits, but with employment improving, many counties no longer qualify.

Norah West, media relations manager for Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, explains the requirements needed to maintain the benefit.

"They could work at least 20 hours per week, or 80 hours a month average, or complete at least 16 hours of unpaid volunteer work," she says.

The counties affected are King, Snohomish, and parts of Pierce.

New recipients in the able-bodied category will only be eligible for three months of benefits over a three-year period. After that, the work requirement kicks in.

Katharine Ryan, policy and research manager of Food Lifeline, an organization that helps distribute goods to Washington food banks, says the state is a leader in job and education programs for people who receive food assistance.

"In some ways, we are lucky here that I think fewer people are going to be affected than are in other places,” she states. “There are other states that don't even have those programs in place, so it's like that's not even an option for people."

Ryan says local food banks will also help pick up the slack.

Ultimately, Ryan doesn't agree with cuts to the program.

"It is a trade off and it's about values and what you think is important, and we think that people having the ability to get food when they're in a situation is really important," she says.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP for short, was previously known as Food Stamps.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA