As Washington debates, some U.S. states proceed with food stamps cuts

Reuters

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Kan., Sept 28 (Reuters) - As Congress and theWhite House debate proposed cuts in the federal food stampsprogram, Kansas and Oklahoma are going ahead with reductionsthat could leave thousands of people without subsidies for foodif they do not find work, or sign up for job training.

The two states will require healthy adults through the ageof 49 with no dependents to work at least 20 hours per week, orbe in job training, in order to be eligible for food stamps.

The change takes effect on Tuesday, when those states allowa federal waiver of the work requirement to expire. Wisconsinwill take a similar step next July, bringing to eight the numberof states requiring work to get the assistance.

"These are people who should be working," said TheresaFreed, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children andFamilies. "There are plenty of jobs available."

A near-record 48 million Americans - or about one in seven -receive food stamps, government data shows.

The Food Stamp Program administered by the U.S. AgricultureDepartment provides paper coupons or debit cards for low-incomepeople to buy food. But states can ask for the work requirementto be added, which Oklahoma and Kansas have done.

Phyllis Gilmore, Secretary of the Kansas Department forChildren and Families, announced the work requirement in earlySeptember. In Oklahoma, a bill approved by state lawmakersearlier this year made the change. Both of those two states, aswell as Wisconsin, have a Republican governor andRepublican-controlled legislature.

Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon said the workrequirement would help food stamp recipients to "break theiraddiction to government subsidies."

The change will affect about 20,000 Kansas residents, stateofficials said. Oklahoma Department of Human Services spokesmanMark Beutler said he was not sure how many people would beaffected there.

The changes have drawn criticism from some advocates for thepoor and unemployed.

"It's the wrong thing to do," said Louis Goseland, campaigndirector for Sunflower Community Action, based in Wichita,Kansas. "It's not as though starving 20,000 people will doanything to change unemployment. It is punitive to the mostvulnerable people in the state."

President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package in 2009suspended the work requirement nationwide to help the growingnumber of unemployed during the recession. Even as the economyand job picture have improved, the waiver has remained in moststates.

Five states - Delaware, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont andWyoming - have not used the waiver in recent years for a varietyof reasons, according to a recent report by Pew CharitableTrusts, an independent public policy research group.

The waiver still allows unemployed people to get foodstamps, but only for three months within a 36-month period. Thatmeans in Kansas and Oklahoma some people will have three monthsfrom Oct. 1 either to find a job or enroll in a federaljob-training program.

The tighter restrictions follow a vote by theRepublican-majority U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 24 tocut food stamp spending by $40 billion.

Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it passes theSenate. The White House said foods stamps help stave off povertyand hunger.

One provision of the House bill would limit healthy adultswith no dependents to three months of food stamps over athree-year period unless they were working or in a job trainingprogram, similar to what will soon be required in Kansas,Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

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