SNAP restrictions included in this month’s federal debt limit deal will impact the Mountain State more severely than any other state on a per capita basis due to West Virginia’s aging population. Nationwide, nearly 750,000 older adults aged 50-54 will be at risk of losing their food assistance due to these new provisions, including 7,000 in West Virginia. These SNAP changes will go into effect this fall just as federal SNAP dollars are already leaving the state economy due to pandemic-era SNAP programs ending, potentially burdening an already stressed charitable food sector and removing millions of dollars from the food economy.
The SNAP changes in the debt ceiling agreement expand mandatory work reporting requirements as a condition of receiving SNAP benefits to include persons between the ages of 50-54. Currently, SNAP has an existing work reporting requirement that requires most adults between 18-49 without children in the home to comply with onerous work reporting requirements or otherwise prove they qualify for an exemption to the requirement.
A significant body of research has found that these work reporting requirements do not improve employment or earnings – they just take food assistance away from those who need it. Ample evidence also shows that many adults who do meet exemptions from the requirement are not properly screened and lose food assistance even when they should not. Expanding the failed work reporting requirements will put an additional 7,000 West Virginians between 50-54 at risk of losing their food assistance in any given month. West Virginia will be the most impacted of any state on a per capita basis, due to our higher-than-average older and disabled population. While nationally, 36 percent of SNAP recipients reside in a family with an older or disabled member, in West Virginia that rate is 44 percent.
The end of the COVID-19 public health emergency’s SNAP provisions is already resulting in nearly 170,000 total households across West Virginia losing a cumulative $36 million/month in federal food assistance. While households of all ages have been impacted, older adults have been hit especially hard, as the pre-pandemic monthly average SNAP benefit for older households is only $75/month or $2.50 per person/per day.
Older SNAP recipients who only qualify for the minimum SNAP benefit in West Virginia saw their monthly food assistance allotment shrink from $283/month to $23/month after the discontinuation of the pandemic-era emergency allotments. Notably, West Virginia already has one of the highest food insecurity rates in the country for people in their 50’s.
West Virginia has recent experience and data on the impacts of enacting work reporting requirements as a condition of receiving SNAP. In 2016, then Governor Earl Ray Tomblin directed the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) to implement a pilot program to require work reporting restrictions for childless adults ages 18-49 (referred to as “able-bodied adults without dependents” or “ABAWD”) in the nine counties with the lowest unemployment statewide. SNAP recipients who could not prove to DHHR that they were employed 20 hours/week or engaged in an approved work activity were removed from SNAP. The results, presented by DHHR to the House Committee on Health and Human Resources aligned with findings from other studies around the country: “Our best data does not indicate that the program has had a significant impact on employment figures for the ABAWD population in the 9 issuance-limited counties.”
A WVCBP analysis of the nine-county work reporting requirement similarly found that the SNAP work requirements had virtually no impact on employment. Before the pilot program began, the nine counties had identical employment growth relative to the rest of the state. However, in the years post-implementation, West Virginia’s overall employment growth outpaced that of the nine counties by a ratio of two to one.
Older adults now subject to work reporting requirements face unique challenges when it comes to finding and maintaining a job. Throughout West Virginia, adults with disabilities who are unable to navigate the complex, paperwork-intensive processes involved to secure SSI disability benefits often rely on SNAP benefits to keep food on the table.
In West Virginia, there are over 549,000 adults living with a disability while less than 71,000 currently qualify for disability benefits. Work reporting requirements as a condition of receiving SNAP for older adults ignores the stark realities facing people who struggle with disabilities, chronic illness, and other barriers to work. Because West Virginia has an older population along with the highest percentage of disabled persons in the country, the new SNAP restrictions enacted as part of the debt ceiling deal will disproportionately hurt aging West Virginians.
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