Blog Posts > SNAP Restrictions Fail to Connect Vulnerable Residents to Work While Straining Charitable Food Providers
May 10, 2024

SNAP Restrictions Fail to Connect Vulnerable Residents to Work While Straining Charitable Food Providers

In July 2023, West Virginia reimplemented pre-pandemic time limits for some adults receiving food assistance via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The time limits apply to adults between 18 and 52 (up to 54 in September 2024) without a documented disability and without children under 18 in the household, often referred to as “able-bodied adults without dependents”(ABAWDs), though this term is problematic and inaccurate in many cases. Impacted adults are only eligible for SNAP for three months over a three-year period unless they report work or qualify for an exemption.

Many studies have highlighted that work reporting requirements have no impact on employment but increase hunger and harm local economies. Furthermore, a 2015 study in Ohio found that people impacted by these restrictions often face barriers that prevent them from meeting the requirements.

Over the last several months the WVCBP conducted research in two places with very different economic landscapes to assess the impacts of these SNAP policy changes. Our team interviewed individuals in Mingo and Cabell counties who lost their SNAP benefits due to the reporting requirements. Mingo County is one of the highest poverty counties in West Virginia with the unemployment rate averaging more than 10 percent over the last decade. Cabell County is considered to have more economic and job opportunity, with an unemployment rate on par with the statewide average. However, Cabell County and its county seat, Huntington, face their own unique challenges, with the city considered the epicenter of the addiction epidemic.

Ultimately, our study found that across both communities, the individuals impacted by SNAP policy changes who lost their food assistance faced similar hardships that made meeting said reporting requirements incredibly difficult, including not having a high school diploma or GED, limited access to personal or public transportation, internet and phone access limitations, felony conviction records, and more.

Additionally, our researchers partnered with local charitable food providers and pantries to assess the impact of SNAP policy changes on food need in the community. In both Mingo and Cabell counties, charitable food pantries saw spikes in the number of meals served in the fall of 2023 as pandemic-era SNAP programs and flexibilities ended. This indicates that those who lost their SNAP benefits did not become more economically stable or food secure, but instead had to meet their food insecurity needs through these community programs.

You can read the full Mingo County study here and the Cabell County study here.

We express our gratitude to our partners in this project including Facing Hunger Food Bank, the Huntington City Mission, Breeden Church of God, Christian Help Mingo, and the Pallottine Foundation of Huntington.

Reducing Poverty Can Improve Educational Outcomes

One in four children in West Virginia lived in poverty in 2022, the second highest rate of any state in the country. With the state pursuing education reform focused on funneling taxpayer funding out of public schools and into the private sector via the Hope Scholarship, West Virginia’s voucher program which is growing more expensive each year, it is important to consider the economic and social conditions of our state’s children, which play a major role in educational outcomes.

West Virginia’s fourth grade reading proficiency levels were the second lowest in the country in 2022, and it is no coincidence that the state also reported the second highest level of child poverty. Research has shown that child poverty is strongly associated with lower educational outcomesNational figures have shown that low math and science test scores are associated with higher child poverty.

Child poverty rates across the country in 2022 ranged from under 7 percent to over 26 percent, while the share of fourth graders proficient in reading spanned from under 20 percent to over 43 percent. Of the five states with the highest child poverty rates, none had reading proficiency scores above the national average. In contrast, of the five states with the lowest child poverty levels, all fell at or above the national average for fourth grade reading proficiency scores.

The range of poverty rates and test scores demonstrates a correlation between a state’s child poverty rate and fourth grade reading proficiency. In general, the lower a state’s child poverty rate, the higher its children score on reading proficiency tests.

If West Virginia lawmakers truly want to increase educational outcomes for our students, they need to look past discredited policies like school vouchers which have mixed or negative impacts on student achievement and are only available to a narrow subset of families (typically those with higher incomes who live near a private school and meet their often discriminatory eligibility guidelines or are able to homeschool their children). Instead they should focus on increasing the economic health and security of all families and reducing our child poverty rate. Early interventions are more cost effective and tend to have the greatest return on investment since the negative effects of living with few resources snowball over time.

Research has shown that by simply supplementing the income of poor families, particularly through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), we can significantly increase the educational achievement of their children. West Virginia can capitalize on this finding by creating a generous state EITC or CTC that builds on the existing federal credits and can help lift more families out of poverty.

Other research has shown that healthier students are better learners. Continuing to support and protect access to health care, particularly by fully funding Medicaid, is also a key factor.

Supporting families in poverty is one of the most effective educational reforms West Virginia can make.

Read Sean’s full blog post.

Lessons Learned from the Medicaid Unwinding

The post-pandemic era Medicaid unwinding has been an unprecedented undertaking for Medicaid enrollees, the state agency that oversees Medicaid, health care providers, and health care advocates. The unwinding process highlighted long-standing patterns within the program and offered a wealth of data to the public, providing necessary insights that can help make health care more accessible in the future. 

The unwinding period required the state to redetermine the eligibility of all Medicaid enrollees. Because of the pandemic-era continuous coverage requirement—and the economic downturn that made more people eligible—the Medicaid program grew significantly during the public health emergency. In January 2020, before the pandemic, West Virginia Medicaid covered roughly 493,000 people. Coverage peaked in March 2023—the last month before the continuous coverage provision ended—at about 655,500 people. By March 2024, West Virginia had roughly 500,000 people enrolled in Medicaid—a reduction of over 150,000 people—returning to pre-pandemic levels of enrollment.

Over the last year, West Virginia has been a leader in releasing detailed information about the unwinding process and its impacts on individuals, families, and children. The state reviewed eligibility for roughly 516,000 people and about half of them, or 258,000, retained coverage. Roughly 207,600 people—a quarter of them children—lost coverage and 47,800 were found to be ineligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This group captures those who completed their renewal forms, most of whom were found to be over the income threshold for the program. The remainder of denials, over 150,000, were procedural denials. This refers to those who lost coverage simply because they didn’t complete a step in the renewal process, not because they were actually determined to be ineligible. 

The unwinding also impacted children’s health insurance coverage. Despite being subjected to a higher income eligibility threshold than adults due to CHIP eligibility guidelines, the data showed similar patterns across both populations. West Virginia reviewed about 195,000 child enrollees for renewal. While 133,000 retained Medicaid or CHIP, about 62,000 lost coverage. Of those that lost coverage, only 12,000 were determined to be ineligible. The majority of the denials were procedural.

While the unwinding is nearing completion, the lessons learned from this period apply to ongoing Medicaid operations. West Virginia policymakers can and must address the state’s high rate of procedural denials. This figure indicates a need to help eligible families remain enrolled. One way to address this is by increasing the number of ex parte, or automatic, renewals. Ex parte renewals utilize available state and federal data sources to confirm income eligibility for enrollees and reduce bureaucratic and paperwork burdens that often confuse eligible people. This creates less paperwork for both enrollees and agency employees while still providing accurate, up-to-date information. 

Several barriers can make correctly completing and returning paperwork on time onerous for enrollees, including limited access to transportation and broadband, avoidance due to anticipated hardship, and experiencing difficulty getting questions answered via phone. These barriers have serious health consequences. People who incorrectly lose Medicaid may believe they are no longer eligible and remain uninsured. Others may reapply but experience a coverage gap that leads them to delay getting care or go without needed medications. Ex parte renewals are one of West Virginia’s many options to work around these barriers. While the number of ex parte renewals has grown significantly in recent months, there is still room to increase impact. 

It is also critical that West Virginia continue to share detailed enrollment and renewal data beyond the unwinding. These data highlighted long-standing patterns that need a proactive response. 

Policymakers should also prioritize education and outreach about available health care programs including the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplaces, Medicaid, and CHIP. Currently, there is not much state or national data available about whether those who lost coverage during the unwinding have successfully transitioned to other health coverage. An April survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that about 23 percent of those who were disenrolled during the unwinding period are still uninsured, with three-fourths of those who lost Medicaid reporting they worry about their health.

Lastly, legislators must fully fund the Medicaid program. As health care costs continue to increase in the United States, West Virginia Medicaid has maintained a flat budget. And while the additional pandemic-era federal funds helped fill gaps created by years of underfunding, those funds expired at the end of the public health emergency. Now, the state must address this hole in the budget and create sustainable revenue sources to ensure the wellness of West Virginia families. By utilizing every available resource, the state can reduce procedural denials and help West Virginians remain healthy.

Read Rhonda’s full blog post.

Medicaid Matters Webinar Recording

The state budget passed by the West Virginia legislature underfunded the Medicaid program by about $150 million. Because Medicaid is a federal-state matching program, that means the program could actually lose over $600 million next year, or about 12 percent of the Medicaid budget. If the funding is not restored, health providers could see their reimbursement rates cut, West Virginians could lose their health coverage, and services could be slashed. This would be devastating for West Virginia families and our health care system.

This past week, the WVCBP hosted a webinar to discuss what’s at stake and how you can get involved. You can watch the recording here.

Take action now by contacting Governor Justice at (304)-558-2000 and asking him to call lawmakers in for a special session and sending your State Senators and Delegate an email urging them to fully fund Medicaid during the session.

Learn more about Medicaid’s underfunding and the accompanying potential consequences in this recent article, featuring insight from WVCBP executive director, Kelly Allen.

Summer Policy Institute Application Deadline Extended

Summer Policy Institute 2024 is almost here!

SPI is a convening focused on policy, where participants learn the ins and outs of policy change through a research and data lens, as well as crucial skills rooted in community engagement and grassroots mobilization. Attendees will meet West Virginia leaders from government, non-profit advocacy, and grassroots organizing spaces to build relationships and networks.

Throughout the convening, participants work in small teams to identify and develop policy proposals to shape the future they want to see in the Mountain State, culminating in team “policy pitches” to community leaders. Sessions will equip participants to focus on defining the problem as an essential first step before progressing to proposing solutions. This will ensure that no fully finalized policy ideas emerge from SPI without authentic engagement–and ideally partnership–with the people most impacted.

Many SPI attendees have gone on to continue advocating for their policy ideas and to hold internships with West Virginia non-profits and in state government.

To learn more, visit our event page here.

To apply, please complete this Google Form and submit your brief letter of interest to The application deadline has been extended to May 31, 2024.

New Reporting Visualizes Pattern of WV Police Officers Switching Departments After Misconduct

When West Virginia police officers are found to have engaged in misconduct and are fired or allowed to resign “in lieu of termination,” they are often able to transfer to a new police department. A recent investigative reporting effort by our colleagues at the ACLU of WV has led to the creation of an interactive map tracking police officers who switch departments following misconduct incidents. Access the map here and read an excerpt from their accompanying article below:

Anthony Reese was walking down the street in Dunbar one day when a stranger began cursing at him out of nowhere.  Confused, Reese began speaking with the man. “Don’t you know who I am?” he asked of Reese.

Reese told the man that he looked like a police officer for the city but wasn’t sure. Over the past few years, Reese had encountered a number of Dunbar Police: a couple of (dismissed) domestic charges, an eviction, a trespassing ticket. But out of uniform and standing in the parking lot of a tire shop, Officer Todd Hannah wasn’t immediately recognizable to Reese. 

According to Reese, Hannah identified himself and accused him of being a known criminal – someone he had been keeping an eye out for around town. The two men began to argue when Hannah said to him, “I’m going to see you back in jail and I’m going to knock your teeth out.” 

A few weeks later, Reese went to the Dunbar Police Department to report his run in with their officer. When Reese left the building, he saw Hannah – this time in uniform. And, according to the surveillance video that would later be submitted as evidence in a lawsuit against Dunbar, Hannah switched off his body camera, approached Reese and ordered him to put his hands behind his back.

Moments after handcuffing Reese, Hannah picked him up and slammed him to the ground. Then, six other officers joined Hannah, beating Reese for two minutes before arresting him, according to a complaint. While Hannah didn’t manage to knock Reese’s teeth out, he did put him in the hospital, his face bloodied and swollen from the beating. The lawsuit resulted in a settlement with a $2 million payout to Reese from the city. 

An internal investigation later revealed Hannah had violated department policies five times in his violent arrest of Reese. And while he lost his job with the department, he was never fired. In fact, public records obtained by Dragline from the West Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Program showed Hannah began working for the nearby town of Marmet while still under investigation over the incident in Dunbar.

According to the report from the Professional Standards Program, Hannah “resigned under investigation” from Dunbar Police on Sept. 9, 2023, where he began immediately working for the Marmet Police Department. The Town of Marmet hired Hannah on Aug. 22 – or 25 days before he left Dunbar in disgrace.

Because Hannah resigned under investigation, his certification was revoked. To get it back, he (and any officer in a similar situation) had to come before the Professional Standards Program’s subcommittee: a twelve-person panel (nine officers and three civilians) that reviews police certifications.

While many officers who come before this subcommittee do so for basic renewals or clerical reasons, every officer who leaves their department on bad terms is investigated. Departments may provisionally hire officer whose certifications have been deactivated over misconduct while they await a determination from the subcommittee. But officers without an active certification have to be supervised at all times by an officer in good standing with the committee.

While this review process has been around for decades, it’s only since August 2021 that the program has recorded narratives about departures. Since that time, 62 percent of all applicants have had their certificates reactivated. 

At the January 2024 subcommittee meeting, officers and a handful of attorneys entered a standalone building on the grounds of the West Virginia State Police Academy. About 40 people convened in a training classroom one program staffer referred to as “The Corral.”

The open meeting portion of this day-long event only lasted about 15 minutes. After approving a few budget items, the group went into executive session. All of the officer reactivation hearings happen behind closed doors.

But the results of these subcommittee reviews and the evidence presented to them are public record. To bring these records to light, Dragline has compiled an interactive map of the Professional Standards reports since August 2021. The map includes the program’s findings and where these officers have transferred to and from.

Read the full article.

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