- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The West Virginia House voted Tuesday to impose the federal 20-hour weekly work requirement for many food stamp recipients statewide.

It would apply to people ages 18 to 49 who aren’t pregnant, disabled or military veterans, have no dependent children and get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Currently 46 of West Virginia’s 55 counties have waivers from the work requirement, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott said.

A provision was removed by his committee that also would have subjected food stamp applicants and everyone in their households to an asset test to determine whether they are poor enough to qualify. It also omitted any monetary incentives to an outside contractor verifying eligibility for removing people from the program.

“In every case when issues were raised about people who might be harmed by this legislation, there was an effort to address those concerns,” Shott said. “We have a very narrow group of people who are healthy enough to do something for themselves or for other people in order to justify getting these benefits.”

Other advocates in the House said it will help eliminate fraud and get people back to work, even if only volunteer work or a jobs program.

The maximum possible benefit is $192 a month or about $6.40 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The bill passed 78-19. It goes next to the Senate.

Opponents said it will push struggling poor people out of the food stamps program, cut federal funding and grocery spending in West Virginia and increase demand on its food pantries. They said that was the fundamental effect of a nine-county state pilot program.

Delegate Chad Lovejoy, a Huntington Democrat, said the best data showed said it had only about a 1.9 percent employment success rate, including his county where demand at the food banks has been about 30 percent higher ever since. “We go down a bad road once we start drawing lines that this group of our neighbors that suffer from hunger or poverty are unworthy of our help or undeserving of our assistance,” he said.

Delegate Larry Rowe, a Charleston Democrat, said the change will increase hunger, that some of the people getting food stamps don’t have cars, an address or presentable clothes and won’t be able to get jobs or even volunteer work.

On Oct. 1, waivers from the requirement would be sought only counties with 12-month average unemployment rate above 10 percent. January data showed only Calhoun County with a monthly rate that high. All counties would become ineligible three years later.

Other provisions in the legislation would establish a criminal misdemeanor for Medicaid providers who fail to keep five years of records of claims and a felony for those who destroy records. It would authorize suing medical providers for fraud when they knew “or should have known” a claim to be false.

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