- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - As many as 120,000 people could lose access to the state’s food stamp program if the Republican-controlled Legislature approves a measure that reduces eligibility, according to legislative analysts.

Lawmakers gave preliminary approval by voice vote to the bill Monday after an hour of debate on the merits of welfare and food stamps benefits.

Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, sponsored the hefty measure that would cut off or dramatically reduce access to the state’s food stamps program known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

Olson said he designed the measure based on Clinton-era welfare reforms to put people back to work.

“People will move from dependency to productive members of society,” he said during floor debate Monday adding the effort to include photo IDs on benefit cards would reduce instances of fraud.

Legislative analysts estimate nearly 80,000 people would lose benefits or receive reduced assistance as the result of a provision that prevents the department from renewing a federal waiver that allows able-bodied adults without children to receive food stamp benefits.

The waiver exists for areas where there are not enough jobs or that have unemployment above 10 percent, such as Yuma County.

Analysts say another 40,000 people would be affected by a provision that removes automatic eligibility for those already enrolled in low-income assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the state’s welfare program.

Nearly 1 million people receive benefits through the state’s food stamps program at an average monthly allowance of $120 per person as of January, according to legislative analysts.

Several Democrats rose to voice their opposition to the bill and describe their own experiences with the state’s benefits programs.

Rep. Celeste Plumlee, D-Phoenix, described her time raising her children with the help of food stamps and said she doesn’t believe that kicking people off benefits would further motivate them.

“When I lost those benefits I did not become a more responsible member of society,” she said, “I simply became a mother who could no longer afford to adequately feed her children.”

Additionally, the measure would require the Department of Economic Security to terminate benefits for parents that fail to pay child support and would also add jewelry stores, tattoo parlors, movie theaters, lingerie stores and several other places to the list of establishments where benefits cards cannot be used. It also requires the department add photo identification to benefit cards.

Rep. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson, raised objections to the costs of administering the photo ID program, which analysts estimate would cost $12 million in the first year and $8 million annually. She expressed dismay that bill does not include language to inform people they don’t have to get their picture taken to receive benefits.

House Bill 2596 now awaits a formal vote.

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