Franklin to lose exemption from SNAP work requirements

Published 2:16 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2020

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Effective April 1, some Franklin residents who are receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits may find themselves cut off by July if they are not working or volunteering at least 20 hours per week.

Since 1996, federal law has limited the amount of time non-working, able-bodied adults without dependents, can receive benefits — formerly known as Food Stamps and renamed SNAP in 2008 — to no more than three months over the course of a three-year period. Then, also in 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, Congress passed an amended version of the Food and Nutrition Act, which granted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service the authority to waive the time limit and work requirement in localities with unemployment rates greater than 10 percent or a lack of sufficient jobs.

Now, the USDA has finalized a new rule that had been under consideration since last February, which changes the conditions under which the Food and Nutrition Service will waive the time limit and work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents and eliminates the locality-wide exemption for many areas with high poverty.

“Franklin City has been one of 55 localities that has maintained an exemption from the work requirement due to the poverty and unemployment rates,” said Franklin Social Services Director Sarah Rexrode. “Beginning April 1, 2020, those localities that have been previously exempt will lose their exemption as a result of the final rule.”

Rexrode then clarified that while the rule still officially maintains the exemption for areas with unemployment above 10 percent, it changed the definition of geographic areas that can apply for a waiver and has implemented new evidentiary standards for approval. The core standards for waiver approval now require data from a Bureau of Labor Statistics or a BLS-cooperating agency that shows an area has a recent 12-month average unemployment rate over 10 percent, or data from a BLS or BLS-cooperating agency that shows an area has a 24-month average unemployment rate 20 percent or more above the national rate for a two-year period. The rule further specifies that waivers may not be granted if the 24-month average unemployment rate of the requested area is less than 6 percent.

“None of Virginia’s areas, including Franklin City, meet the above criteria,” Rexrode said.

According to USDA documents, the new rule is the result of a department-wide review of all policies concerning SNAP benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents, which the USDA undertook in response to an executive order President Donald Trump signed in April 2018. This order provided a list of “Principles of Economic Mobility” to inform and guide program administration, and directed federal agencies to review regulations and guidance documents to advance these objectives, consistent with the principles of increasing self-sufficiency, well-being and economic mobility.

“The time limit and work requirement for ABAWDs (able-bodied adults without dependents) in SNAP clearly align with E.O. 13828 and the Department’s shared principle that those who can work — adults who are able-bodied and do not have dependent care responsibilities — should work or participate in a work program, as a condition of receiving their benefits,” the rule states.

According to a document that Franklin Social Services distributed to current SNAP recipients, the change in policy impacts only those ages 18-49, with exemptions to the three-month cap and work requirement still available to those who are permanently disabled, temporarily disabled or unable to work because of a medical condition, living in a household with children under 18, caring for someone who is sick or disabled, pregnant, in school, receiving or applying for unemployment benefits or participating in a drug or alcohol treatment and rehabilitation program.

To meet the 20-hour-per-week work requirement, SNAP recipients must earn pay, work in exchange for a benefit such as rent, work in an unpaid volunteer position, participate in an employment services program operated by the Virginia Department of Social Services, participate in a work program administered by an agency other than Social Services or any combination of the above.

According to the Food and Nutrition Services website, an individual who qualifies for SNAP can receive up to $194 each month via an electronic benefits transfer card, which works like a debit card, while a household of three can receive up to $509 each month. SNAP benefits can be used to buy fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry and fish, dairy products, breads and cereals, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages and seeds and plants that produce food. Benefits cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco products, vitamins, medicines or supplements, live animals, prepared foods for immediate consumption, hot foods or non-food items.