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.
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