Critics say proposal to cut food benefits will hit rural areas hard

Posted October 2, 2015 6:44 p.m. EDT

— A bill on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk would mean less food assistance for unemployed people. Supporters say the measure would encourage the jobless to look harder for work, but critics say it would increase hunger, especially in rural areas.

House Bill 318 would end Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for childless, able-bodied adults after 90 days unless they're working at least 20 hours a week or they're in job training. About 103,000 people statewide could be affected.

The work requirement is part of federal policy for SNAP, but North Carolina obtained a waiver in 2008 to drop it as unemployment spiked during the recession. The bill would end that waiver.

Wake, Durham, Orange and 20 other counties would be off the waiver in January, while the remaining 77 counties would be phased in by July 1, Alexandra Lefebvre, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email to WRAL News.

SNAP is federally funded, so the state won't save any money by cutting benefits, which amount to about $32 a week per person.

Still, Republican lawmakers predict the move will encourage the unemployed to take their job search more seriously.

Tazra Mitchell, a policy analyst with the left-leaning North Carolina Budget & Tax Center, counters that more people are looking for work in 91 of the state's 100 counties than there are jobs available. Job training slots are also few and far between, she said.

"Just do the math. This is going to be especially harsh, and it’s unnecessary,” Mitchell said.

Vance County could be hurt the worst by the change, if it's enacted into law. The county has a 9.6 percent unemployment rate, and 6.34 percent of childless, able-bodied adults there receive SNAP benefits.

Cumberland County, where 3.84 percent of childless, employable adults receive food assistance, also would be hit hard.

Recipients by county

Select a county below to find out how many childless able-bodied adults received food stamps, adjusted for each county's labor force, as of July 2015.

Loading map

Percent of labor force


 to 3.3

 to 2.3



Childless able-bodied adults receiving food stamps as a percentage of labor force:

Childless able-bodied adults receiving food stamps: 4,186
Labor force: 540,657
Unemployed: 27,731
Unemployment rate: 5.1%

Source: NC DHHS, NC Commerce
Graphic by Tyler Dukes

"In the rural counties, especially, it’s going to hurt even harder because there’s not a robust transportation network for folks to use if they don’t have a car to keep looking for work so they can land a job," Mitchell said. "There’s not as robust a safety net system. You don’t have as many food banks in the rural areas as you do in these urban areas.”

The bill would allow volunteer work to count toward the 20-hour-a-week target, but Mitchell said volunteer opportunities also are hard to come by in many rural areas.

"Everyone who can work should work, but what we know is that there are not enough jobs for everyone who wants to work," she said. "This SNAP rule is not a test of someone’s willingness to work because, no matter how hard they’re looking for a job, if they don’t find one in three months, their food assistance is gone, and that is a policy failure."

The Budget & Tax Center has called on McCrory to veto the bill. He has until Oct. 30 to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.