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61,000 stand to lose SNAP benefits under newly reinstated federal rules

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As of April 1, 61,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients in South Carolina must meet specific requirements or lose their benefits.

The change comes because South Carolina elected not to re-apply for a waiver that allows qualifying states to extend benefits for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents past the federal time limit of three months in a three-year time period, Gov. Nikki Haley said during a Thursday news conference. The requirements South Carolina is now subject to require that people between the ages of 18 and 49 with no dependents or disability work at least 20 hours per week; participate in a job training program 20 hours per week; or do some combination of work and job training for a total of 80 hours a month.

“Right now, we have able-bodied adults without dependents that are on food stamps,” Haley said. “This is not denying anyone food stamps. What this is saying is, we need to get these people to work.”

Susan Alford, director of the S.C. Department of Social Services, and Cheryl Stanton, executive director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, flanked Haley at the news conference and pledged a more active partnership between their agencies to achieve that goal.

“Historically, DSS has not systemically been in and out of our (work) centers, and what we’re working on now is making sure that we have a DSS/SNAP employment and training coordinator moving around the state to all of our centers on a regular basis,” Stanton said.

No specific new outreach programs are planned. Stanton emphasized the success of recently launched initiatives, including a job-readiness program with the Transitions homeless recovery center in Columbia that she said put 16 out of 19 participants in its first class to work.

“We’ve stopped sitting behind our desks and waiting for people to come into our S.C. work centers and gotten out into the communities,” Stanton said.

The time limit for the Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents was a part of 1996 federal welfare law. The economic downturn caused many qualified states to waive that limit, but as the economy improved and unemployment rates dropped, some states no longer qualified for the waiver.

South Carolina has an unemployment rate of 5.5%, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — above the national average of 5% — and would have qualified for the waiver again, Haley said.

“We would qualify. We’re choosing not to do that. This is a choice by this administration not to do that,” Haley said. “What we are saying is, we are in a position where we don’t want that waiver anymore.”

A call to DSS, which would have sought the waiver, to confirm South Carolina’s qualification status was not immediately returned Thursday.

As of March, approximately 61,000 of the 772,093 SNAP recipients in South Carolina were designated as able-bodied without dependents. Nationwide, that number stands between 500,000 and 1 million, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The time limit will take effect in 40 states in 2016 — 22 of those for the first time since before the 2008 recession. Nineteen must re-impose the limit in at least part of the state, while three are electing to re-impose it despite qualifying for a waiver because of continued high unemployment, according to the center, which did not specify which states.

The food assistance in question averages $150 to $170 per month person, the center said. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate that those likely to be cut off from these benefits have an average monthly income of approximately 17% of the poverty line and typically qualify for no other support.

“The mission of the Department of Social Services is to get families stable, and to help them as they struggle to get back on their feet,” Alford said. “Since 2012, in working with our SNAP recipients, over 14,000 of them have gotten jobs and have started that pathway to independence.

“We believe we’ll see even more success with our folks in terms of getting families stable by partnering with (DEW) in a more formal way.”

Reach staff writer Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7543.

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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