CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice quietly signed into law Tuesday a bill that implements work requirements for people receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Legislature passed the bill in the waning minutes of the legislative session; it limits recipients who are able bodied adults ages 18-49 to three months of benefits in any three-year period unless the recipient is working or participating in an educational or volunteer program for at least 20 hours a week.

There are exceptions to this bill — people with dependents, those who are disabled, those who are pregnant, or veterans from military service.

Beginning this October, the department shall discontinue and not seek federal waivers granted for Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents for any county that cannot be demonstrated to have a recent annual average unemployment rate above 10 percent, a recent two-year average unemployment rate of 20 percent above the national average for the same two-year period.

These waivers exempt able-bodied adults with no children from work requirements for receiving SNAP benefits. All counties shall be ineligible for any such waiver as of October 2021 under the bill.

Those who supported the bill said the measure  affects a only narrow group of people and that the bill would help reduce waste, fraud and abuse of the system.

Opponents said the measure lacks compassion, that the DHHR's pilot program didn't work in getting people employed, and that it could put a strain on food pantries.

West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Director of Public Policy Seth DiStefano says the bill's effects will hurt people.

“Taking away food from our neighbors who struggle to find work doesn't accomplish anything positive, it only hurts our communities,” DiStefano says. “The bill will make it more difficult for thousands of West Virginians to get food assistance they need when times are tough, and is estimated to remove $18 million in federal SNAP dollars from our struggling economy.”

DiStefano also cites data from the state's pilot program, which showed work requirements did not increase workforce participation.

“The bill doubles down on a failed policy at the expense of some of the most vulnerable West Virginians,” he says.

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Gov. Justice also signed several others bills Tuesday, including one that is to better manage the state's vehicle fleet.

The bill reforms the state’s Fleet Management Office into a permanent Fleet Management Division in the Department of Administration.

It would also introduce a standard naming convention so there’s a consistent way to report and look up state vehicles.

And the bill would change the color pattern of state vehicle license plates from green and white to blue and gold — a move meant to ensure that old or expired plates are no longer in use.

“We think the state owns roughly $200 million in vehicles, yet no government agency can give us an accurate count of how many vehicles the state actually owns or what they’re being used for,” stated Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, the bill’s sponsor.

“This is unacceptable, and we owe it to the taxpayers of West Virginia to require transparency and accountability in tracking the state’s vehicle fleet.”

Another bill signed is meant to clarify venue in West Virginia State Courts as it applies to nonresidents. It says nonresidents may not bring actions in West Virginia courts unless whatever gave rise to the claim occurred here. Then, it provides that nonresidents may file actions in the state courts if they cannot otherwise obtain jurisdiction in the state where the action arose.

Another bill signed makes the state Ethics Act apply to “public servant volunteers.” Volunteers who do work for public officials would have to submit ethics disclosures.

The issue arose after businessman Bray Cary became a volunteer in Gov. Jim Justice’s office. Cary is a board member for EQT Corporation, which has significant oil and gas operations in West Virginia.

Cary has been voluntarily submitting his financial disclosure to the state Ethics Commission. 

Email: alannom@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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