Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Governor declines waivers on food stamp benefits in high unemployment areas

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2016 at 6:58 AM

The Arkansas News Bureau reports that some 5 percent, or 25,000, of the 500,000 Arkansans who received supplemental nutrition benefits (food stamps) could lose those benefits unless they get jobs, sign up for accredited job training programs or work 20 hours a week in volunteer toil.

Because of a declining unemployment rate, the state no longer qualifies for a waiver from the job-seeking requirement under the federally paid SNAP program. This rule requires to able-bodied people aged 18 to 49 without children.

The news relayed to generally approving legislators Monday included the information that Gov. Asa Hutchinson could have asked for a federal waiver from the job-seeking rule in counties with extraordinarily high unemployment rates. A ready list of qualifying counties is not available, but waivers can be extended in counties with an unemployment rate 20 percent higher than the national average for a two-year period. The national unemployment rate is 5 percent. That would make a 6 percent unemployment rate 20 percent higher currently. Some 18 Arkansas counties, heavily concentrated in the Delta, have unemployment rates higher than 6 percent, though figures aren't readily available of their experience against the national overage over the two-year period by which waivers may be calculated.

Places with chronic high unemployment are generally not rich places for jobs or job training — or perhaps even for volunteer opportunities given strapped local governments.

The governor believes tough love is the way out. The Arkansas News Bureau story quoted Mark White, deputy director of the Department of Human Services:

White said after the hearing that Hutchinson chose not to seek waivers for individual counties because “he wants to encourage work and help our beneficiaries transition from dependency to gainful employment.” 

Chicot, Mississippi and Phillips County have unemployment rates above 7 percent.

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