Food stamps work rule to begin again in 23 counties

Posted December 31, 2015
Updated January 1, 2016

— Food stamp recipients in North Carolina's largest counties who remain out of a job in the new year may see their benefits end as a result of federal rule changes.

Since the recession, the entire state has been exempt from a federal requirement that able-bodied adults without children work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week to receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. But on Jan. 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will end that blanket exception, implementing the rule again for 23 North Carolina counties largely based on their recovering unemployment rates. Waivers remain in place for the rest of the state's counties for now.

Benefits won't stop immediately if an individual doesn't meet the work requirement – recipients can receive them for up to 90 days even if they're still jobless.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Sherry Bradsher said the counties, which include Wake, Orange and Durham, account for about half the population of childless able-bodied adults in the state who receive food and nutrition benefits, commonly known as food stamps. That's about 59,000 people out of a potential 118,000 across the state who would be subject to the restarted work rules.

Although Bradsher said about 80 percent of food stamp recipients have jobs, many who don't meet the work requirement will need help with job placement and employee training services.

"From a readiness standpoint, most of these counties have some infrastructure in place to support these individuals," Bradsher said.

The exemptions will end for North Carolina's other 77 counties by July 1, following last-minute legislation by state lawmakers this fall to ban DHHS requests for work requirement waivers. The measure's supporters say reinstating the work requirement will push the jobless to step up their employment searches.

"When this goes into effect, you’re going to see a lot of them either go and get that 20-hour-a-week job, or they're going to enroll in some kind of job education," Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said in September.

Because SNAP benefits, which average about $32 a week per person, are federally funded, the state itself won't save any money.

Critics say the end of waivers will mean more hardship for some areas, especially rural ones, still suffering from a lack of jobs.

Even in Wake County, where the jobless rate is less than 5 percent, Human Services Director Regina Petteway said the uneven recovery has meant that many are still struggling to find work.

"I think some people are just not going to want to or be able to do this," Petteway said.

There are up to 4,000 childless, able-bodied adults receiving food stamps in Wake County who may be subject to the work requirements, she said. County staff members are still working to identify the exact number, since other factors like homelessness or ongoing treatment for substance abuse could exempt them from the final figure. The total is also in flux because new applicants flow into Petteway's office daily.

"It's taken a lot of follow up, and because Wake County is so big and we had 4,000 people, we had to get on this quickly," Petteway said.

To prepare for the new year, Petteway said the department is working to find job and volunteer opportunities that can help people meet the work requirements and keep their benefits if they need them.

Bradsher said this work on the county level will be crucial to the remaining areas of the state that will become subject to the work rules by July, including those with higher unemployment and less developed infrastructures for helping people find work.

"We learn a lot from those counties that are first out of the gate," Bradsher said.


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  • Fanny Chmelar Jan 6, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    Rampant? Uhm, no.

    In a 30 day period, nationally the GAO found "28 postings from one popular e-commerce websites that advertised the potential sale of food stamp benefits in exchange for cash."
    Mind you, 47 million people are on the program.

    There are other measures of fraud but when you do the research, you'll find the word 'rampant' used on Fox and Fox-related sites. On others you'll find real statistics showing that although there are problems in the system, most are with the program itself and the minority are from those using it.

  • Jon Gregory Jan 6, 2016
    user avatar

    Good start. Now put photos on the EBT cards! Fraud is rampant!

  • Fanny Chmelar Jan 5, 2016
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    View quoted thread


  • ecu4me2 Jan 4, 2016

    When do we do away with the free cell phones except for the needy.....selling ebt to upgrade to an I phone should be addressed....

  • Stacie Hagwood Jan 3, 2016
    user avatar

    One of the biggest problems I see that needs to be overhauled isn't how long is able to get food stamps, but what food stamps will actually buy. The fact that they can be used to virtually anything, including sugary drinks and juice cocktails, chips, cookies, etc. does nothing to help people stay healthy. Food stamps should operate like WIC and allow people specific foods, such as a pound of butter, bag of flour, etc. Doritos? I bag per month. Chocolate chip cookies? 1 container per month. Milk? Yes. Store brand cereal and bread? Yes. Ground beef, pork chops, chicken? Yes. T-bone steak or ribs? Nope. There are those that will argue that I am suggesting that grown adults are not capable of making these decisions on their own. And they would be right. That is EXACTLY what I am suggesting.

  • Stephanie Lee Jan 2, 2016
    user avatar

    After reading this article and then reading the comments, I think some are missing the point. IF you do not work at least 20 hours then you can volunteer for 20 hours to keep your food stamps. Sounds reasonable to me.

  • King Mopar Jan 2, 2016
    user avatar

    And...I think any American who has worked all his life, or has a history of working, paid into the system, should be helped in times of illness, bad health, or bad circumstances beyond their control. We each pay into the disability system with every paycheck, why do we need all these lawyers, to get what is due to us in times of trouble? Makes no sense. There are people who need help, and then there are those that abuse/work the system. Those are the ones we need to take off the payroll, for the benefit of all of us.

  • King Mopar Jan 2, 2016
    user avatar

    First of all, you have to fix the jobless issue, by stopping all the outsourcing of work to other countries, just because of cheap labor. We have lost so much production here in the states. Corporations need to invest in America first, and foremost, not everywhere else. That produces revenue for the states, the country, and yes, it's citizens, even the poor ones. There was a time, even if one didn't complete high school, a job could be had. Maybe not a high paying job, but at least 40 hrs a week, with room to advance. School kids worked the fields during the summer for money, as well as some who worked on farms full time, with little to no education. Migrant camps were a small percentage, now farmers can't get their products picked, without the camps, because some Americans find it easier, to just sit by the mail box. Our economy, is based on a sliding scale. Not everyone is or can afford a degree. Someone has actually got to do, hands on work, a trade.

  • Renee Henderson Jan 2, 2016
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    Won't change anything for those who have young children, just those who have none or only kids over 12. It will hit the older population the hardest.

  • Roscoe P Coltrane Jan 1, 2016
    user avatar

    A bunch of people aren't going to be happy when they discover that they will have to work for their free krape. No more sitting around and spitting out babies. I understand that it will screw some, who actually deserve the help, but the system has been being raped by so many, for so long. Retailers need to be on alert for a sudden increase in shoplifting.