SNAP asset test bill ‘effectively killed’ in WV House

By LORI KERSEY

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would have imposed an asset test on food stamp recipients in West Virginia is effectively dead for the legislative session, a lobbyist who’s been working against the legislation said.

Senate Bill 60 would have, among other things, limited assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to households with less than $2,000 in assets or $3,000 for households with elderly and disabled people.

Another section of the bill would have allowed the Department of Health and Human Resources to contract with a third-party vendor to develop a system to verify income, assets and eligibility of those who apply for public assistance, including SNAP, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

The Senate passed the bill and sent it to the House, where it was referred to the House Health and Human Resources Committee and then to Judiciary. After a public hearing on the bill Monday, the Judiciary Committee did not take up the bill Tuesday or Wednesday.

Under regular Legislature rules, a bill has to have three full days of readings on the floor in order to pass. Without a suspension of rules, the bill won’t get that chance before the end of the regular legislative session on Saturday.

“When the Judiciary Committee declined to take it up, that effectively killed the bill,” said Seth DiStefano, the coordinator for the West Virginia Food Security Coalition, which organized in response to the potential legislation.

Delegate Riley Moore, R-Jefferson and a member of the Judiciary Committee, tweeted Wednesday afternoon that the “bill is dead.”

Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha and the lead sponsor of the bill, told the Gazette-Mail previously he doesn’t want to eliminate food assistance for people who actually need it, but the bill would help determine who doesn’t need the help. In urging the bill’s passage last week, Gaunch told the Senate he wants to preserve valuable federal dollars for those in West Virginia who need it the most.

Gaunch was not available for comment because he was in session or meetings all day, his assistant said in an email.

Opponents of the bill say it would have punished poor people for attempting to save money and would further perpetuate the cycle of poverty in West Virginia. The bill would have especially hurt seniors who have worked their whole lives and saved money, but in retirement are relying on Social Security and food stamps, DiStefano said. The bill would require them to spend down their savings or be ineligible for food assistance.

DiStefano said he’s glad the House has seen reason on the bill and sided with the grassroots effort to stop it.

Of the 19 audience members who spoke during the public hearing Monday, only one spoke in favor of the bill. The rest said if the bill passes, it would harm poor families, and discourage saving money — the vehicle out of poverty.

The Food Security Coalition, made up of several organizations — including Covenant House, Manna Meal, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, West Virginia Council of Churches and others — was organized in response to the bill.

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