A Senate committee Wednesday morning passed a substantially rewritten bill on public assistance that forbids the state Department of Human Resources from seeking waivers from work requirements for those enrolled in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, would forbid the department from seeking the waivers in all cases, even during times of economic distress.
As originally written, the bill would have required able-bodied public assistance recipients not currently working to perform at least 20 hours of community service a week, similar to current requirements. However, both Taylor and members of the Senate Children, Youth and Human Resources committee said earlier in the session that the bill was written too broadly, and held it up.
The requirements were put in place in 1996 under a welfare reform bill. However, the bill also allowed the measures to be waived during times of economic trouble, such as the recently-concluded recession; the 2009 federal stimulus bill suspended the work requirement, and according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least 45 states, including Alabama, had applied for the waivers in recent years.
Taylor said Wednesday morning he believed those waivers had driven spending in the program.
“There are so many stories out there today about food stamps becoming the new welfare program,” he said. “There are children and elderly folks, and now we’ve got able-bodied working age folks receiving food stamps.”
If enacted, the law would require able-bodied recipients without dependents who receive SNAP benefits would have three months — from Oct. 1 — to find at least 20 hours of work a week.
According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office, 65 percent of the growth in SNAP spending between 2007 and 2011 was driven by the weak economy. Another 20 percent was attributed to “higher benefit amounts” in the stimulus bill.
According to the Alabama Department of Human Resources, which administers most federal programs in the state, Taylor’s bill would affect 60,000 of the state’s 908,000 SNAP recipients, or about 6.6 percent.
“There are a lot of people who receive assistance that have jobs,” said Barry Spear, a spokesman for DHR. “They’re just low-paying, or not paying enough to get them over the threshold where they’re qualified.”
Spear said DHR did not have a position on Taylor’s legislation, but did not oppose it.