Blog Posts > West Virginia Policymakers Will Soon Lose Power to Use SNAP Flexibilities to Address Economic Downturns if Action is Not Taken
February 14, 2022

West Virginia Policymakers Will Soon Lose Power to Use SNAP Flexibilities to Address Economic Downturns if Action is Not Taken

Background

In May 2016, West Virginia implemented a pilot program that placed time limits on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility for adults without children in the home (officially referred to as “able-bodied adults without dependents” or “ABAWDs”) across nine counties. Under these time limits, those affected were ineligible for SNAP if they could not meet certain work requirements. Despite the pilot project’s overwhelming failure to increase employment among impacted folks and clear role in increasing food and economic insecurity, in 2018 West Virginia legislators passed a law, HB 4001, implementing these time limits statewide. This legislation will go into effect later this year while also ending state authority to waive the time limits in future economic downturns. While the federal government has suspended these time limits for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, without further legislative action, HB 4001 will soon apply to adults without dependents in the home across the entire state – regardless of available job opportunities, the unemployment rate, or other factors that may impact these individuals. In addition to a lack of beneficial impact on SNAP enrollees, SNAP time limits harm West Virginia’s economy as the state forgoes millions of dollars that circulate beyond food purchases annually. In transferring the state’s authority to make nuanced food policy decisions to the federal government, West Virginia lawmakers fail to address hunger needs and relinquish their power to address economic downturns in the future. Fortunately, state lawmakers can pass legislation to stop the ticking clock that will soon take away their ability to address future recessions and regional variances in our economy.

Read the full issue brief.

Key Findings

  • SNAP time limits in West Virginia and in other states have increased hunger and food insecurity without meeting key goals of increasing employment among impacted SNAP recipients.
  • The SNAP program is fully federally funded, meaning that when residents lose benefits, the state saves no money and merely forgoes federal dollars that positively impact our state’s economy. In fact, the state may spend more money and manpower by having to increase use of individual exemptions with the loss of ability to apply for regional waivers.
  • Without further legislative action, on October 1, 2022, state policymakers will lose the ability to address future economic downturns or regional variances in our economy by waiving SNAP time limits, transferring that authority to the federal government. Waivers will no longer be available even during future recessions or in regions where unemployment rates are greater than 10 percent.
  • Thirty West Virginia counties would currently be eligible for time limit waivers, as they are designated as Labor Surplus Areas (LSAs), with an unemployment rate that is significantly higher than the national average. However, HB 4001 precludes the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources from applying for waivers for these counties or any counties in perpetuity.
  • Able-bodied adults without dependents who are targeted by this policy are far more likely than the average population to face significant barriers that can prevent them from finding work, including mental and physical disabilities, criminal records, homelessness, lack of a driver’s license and access to transportation, and more.

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