- Associated Press - Monday, December 21, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards intends to remove work requirements that Gov. Bobby Jindal has enacted for more than 60,000 food stamp recipients, job mandates that were challenged in a federal lawsuit last week.

Edwards sent a letter Monday to the U.S. Department of Agriculture saying he will seek a federal waiver of the work requirements, a waiver Jindal allowed to expire earlier this year. The governor-elect said Louisiana’s high unemployment rate qualifies it to skip the work mandate.

Edwards asked the USDA and the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services to stop any interruption of benefits until he can reapply for the waiver after being sworn into office Jan. 11. He said he wants a one-year waiver so he can bolster state worker training programs.

The work requirements are supposed to kick in Jan. 1 for adults ages 18 to 49 without children. To receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, or SNAP, those childless adults will have to work at least 20 hours per week or be enrolled in a federally approved job training program.

Without intervention from the USDA or the state social services agency, 31,000 people could lose their food stamps with the start of the new year, according to Edwards’ transition office. The food assistance - estimated to cost $72 million for the 31,000 people over the next year - is paid for by the federal government, not the state.

“I believe that we should do everything possible to assist those that are able to return to gainful employment so that they will no longer be in need of the SNAP program. I intend to use this extension for 2016 to work with the (Department of Children and Family Services) and the legislature to develop programs that offer workforce training and assistance to those on SNAP benefits,” Edwards wrote to Suzy Sonnier, secretary of the state family services department.

Advocacy groups filed a lawsuit last week seeking to stop the work requirements from taking effect in Louisiana.

States that meet certain U.S. Labor Department criteria have been able to get waivers from the work requirements in federal law. Edwards’ transition office said Louisiana is one of 31 states that meet the criteria. The lawsuit filed last week says Louisiana has received a waiver of the work requirements for 18 years until Jindal let the waiver expire.

The Jindal administration disagreed with Edwards’ plan, saying the work requirements will help people “to break the cycle of poverty.” Jindal spokesman Mike Reed said Monday that the administration wasn’t reversing its decision, an indication it wouldn’t try to stop the interruption of benefits.

“Having a job is empowering. This decision will mean more able-bodied Louisianians will be dependent on the government and discouraged from joining the workforce,” Reed said in a statement.

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