New welfare reform bill targets lottery winners

Posted June 8

food stamps, food benefits, snap

— A bill unveiled Wednesday in the state House would require social service officials to cross-check their food stamp rolls with lottery winners every month.

House Bill 1047, sponsored by Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, would require lottery officials to submit a list of all people who won more than $2,250 to the Department of Health and Human Services, where administrators for the federal food benefits program known as SNAP would be required to check those names for enrollment.

Any winners receiving food assistance, Jones said, would need to be reassessed to see if they're still eligible.

Jones said 40 states are "using a federal loophole" that eases income and means qualification limits for applicants.

"It has allowed millionaires and lottery winners to qualify for food stamps," he asserted. "As many as 4 million people may be receiving food stamps despite having resources above these federal limits."

The bill would also institute strict consequences for applicants who don't accurately report their income on application forms. The first offense would result in a three-month benefit suspension for the entire household, including children. The third strike would permanently oust the household from food assistance.

Jones said that penalty is allowed under federal guidelines. "This clears the rules. The rules need to be clear."

Neither Jones nor representatives from DHHS could say with certainty whether failure to comply with the new 20-hour work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents could also trigger benefit suspension.

DHHS official David Locklear said applicants are recertified every six months and are required to report their employment status upon application and recertification. Tracking compliance, he said, is up to county social services departments.

The bill would direct any money saved by the new requirements to mental health needs. However, since the program is completely federally funded, the state wouldn't realize any savings.

Jones said it would still save money on the federal level.

"People around here talk about federal dollars like it's manna from heaven," he said. "People like you and me and everyone else in North Carolina are federal taxpayers."

Rep. Beverly Earle, D-Mecklenburg, suggested that the $2,250 lottery winnings cutoff is too low, pointing out that food stamp recipients have very low incomes by definition.

"Most folks don't get enough food stamps for what they need," Earle said. "A $2,000 influx would just be an extra something to take care of some other bills that they have."

Jones said the figure came from federal reporting requirements.

"The law does require that when people have such a change in their income or their resources, they're legally supposed to report that when they're on these benefits," he said. "They may not know that they're directed by the law to report it."

The measure passed the House Health Committee on a voice cote and could be on the House floor Thursday.


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