West Virginia Lawmakers Propose Food Stamp Work Requirement

Published November 5, 2015

Two West Virginia lawmakers have unveiled a proposal to reinstate the state’s work requirements for food stamp recipients.

State Dels. Danny Wagner (R-Barbour) and Patsy Trecost (D-Harrison) announced they will sponsor a bill limiting the amount of time able-bodied adults without dependents may draw food stamp benefits, returning the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to compliance with the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (PRWOA).

In 2008, West Virginia received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove work requirements for people receiving entitlement benefits in the state.

Back to Work

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow with The Heritage Foundation and one of PRWOA’s architects, says the bill would return the state’s entitlement programs to their normal operation.

“It looks like they are trying to put a work requirement onto able-bodied adults without dependent children in the food stamp program,” said Rector. “This policy has been recently implemented in Kansas and in Maine. Altogether, nationwide, there are about five million individuals … who get food stamps [in this way], to a total cost of around $11 billion a year for this group.”

Rector says helping ease people back into work benefits both taxpayers and those released from dependency on entitlements.

“It’s much more effective if, instead of saying, ‘We’re going to cut benefits off,’ you offer to these individuals a community service slot or job training or some sort of supervised job search,” Rector said. “When they did that in Maine, the caseload immediately dropped by 75 percent. In other words, the entire population that was subject to the work requirement simply dropped off the rolls.”

Helping the Needy

Rector says work requirements ensure aid goes to those who really need it.

“Any work requirement is, in fact, a very efficient gatekeeping device, and what you want in a good welfare program is to … aid anyone who really needs assistance,” Rector said.

West Virginia Values

James Shaffer, president of the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, says helping people help themselves is a West Virginian value.

“I think certainly in West Virginia there is an ethos that says, ‘You have to do something,'” Shaffer said.

Shaffer says the proposed welfare-to-work reforms would be a welcome change from the state’s past policies.

“You know, I worked in Gov. Underwood’s administration in the mid-1990s, when we saw a bunch of waivers with welfare reform.” Shaffer said. “We worked with [Gov.] Tommy Thompson and Gene Rogers in Wisconsin, and we were working in step with them, and we had very little work requirements back in those days. To get to this point is pretty reasonable, quite honestly.”

Andrea Dillon ([email protected]) writes from Holly Springs, North Carolina.

Internet Info:

Timothy Besley and Stephen Coate, “Workfare versus Welfare: Incentive Arguments for Work Requirements in Poverty-Alleviation Programs,” The American Economic Review: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/workfare-versus-welfare-incentive-arguments-work-requirements-poverty-alleviation-p/