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States aren't waiting for Washington to require poor residents to work

President Trump and Republicans in Congress are setting the stage to make more low-income Americans work for benefits...

Posted: Apr 18, 2018 12:23 PM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 12:23 PM

President Trump and Republicans in Congress are setting the stage to make more low-income Americans work for benefits. But a growing number of states are already doing just that.

Many of the states' efforts focus on the food stamp program, which already requires some recipients to work.

Currently, able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49 who don't have minor children must work or enroll in a training program for 20 hours a week. Otherwise, they can only receive benefits for up to three months every three years.

But states can request waivers of the work requirement for areas where unemployment is at least 10% or there is an insufficient number of jobs, as defined by the Department of Labor.

Typically, about one-third of the nation lives in a place where the work requirement is suspended, though that share skyrocketed during and just after the Great Recession.

Some governors and lawmakers say that their states are now in better financial shape so they don't need to apply for waivers. Instead, they say these food stamp recipients should start moving toward independence by getting jobs or enrolling in training programs. Plus, they argue, with near record-low unemployment, their states have a labor shortage that low-income residents can help fill.

Kentucky, which had a statewide waiver until 2016, is rapidly moving to reimpose work requirements in all but eight of its counties. By the end of May, recipients in 112 counties will be subject to the three-month time limit on benefits if they don't work, up from 20 counties at the end of last year.

Lifting these waivers will impact most of the 87,000 Kentucky adults in the program who don't have dependents, according to the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

"Since jobs are still hard to find in significant parts of the state, this change will result in loss of food assistance and harm to economic activity in already-struggling local communities," Dustin Pugel, a policy analyst at the center, wrote in a blog post.

Related: House GOP bill would lock the poor out of food stamps if they don't work

Nearly four dozen counties and three cities meet the criteria to easily gain federal waiver approval, he noted.

Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services did not return calls seeking comment.

In West Virginia, state officials will start phasing out the number of counties with work requirement waivers later this year. Currently, food stamp enrollees in only nine out of the state's 55 counties are subject to the time limit. Going forward, only counties designated as having a "labor surplus" -- more workers than available jobs -- will be able to apply to suspend the work requirement.

But in October 2022, West Virginia will no longer be able to apply for a waiver for any county, no matter the economic circumstances, according to a bill passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Jim Justice last month.

This will not only hurt many low-income residents, but it could harm businesses in many areas, said Seth DiStefano, policy and outreach director at the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy.

"In some communities, SNAP is literally keeping grocery stores open," he said.

West Virginia's Department of Health and Human Resources did not return calls seeking comment.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker last week signed a series of bills that are part of his Wisconsin Works for Everyone welfare reform plan. The bills aim to apply the work requirement to parents of school-age children, to increase the number of hours food stamp recipients must work and to explore developing employment plans for those living in public housing. Many of the proposals will require either federal approval or a change in federal law.

Related: Trump signs executive order pushing work requirements for the poor

"We want to help those in need move from government dependence to true independence through the dignity of work," said Walker, who ended waivers for able-bodied adults without dependents statewide in 2015.

At least a dozen states are also interested in the Trump administration's willingness to require Medicaid recipients to work, a historic change in the program. Three states -- Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas -- have already received federal approval to do so.

The states' actions come as President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress look to overhaul the nation's safety net system. Last week, Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to promote employment for those on public assistance.

Also, on Thursday, Republicans introduced the House farm bill, which calls for expanding the number of food stamp recipients who are subject to work requirements. The legislation would require those in their 50s to have jobs or enter training programs and also would extend the mandate to parents with school-age children, starting in fiscal 2021.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 604687

Reported Deaths: 7643
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1250161780
Ramsey52519898
Dakota46852471
Anoka42789458
Washington27436291
Stearns22561225
St. Louis18146313
Scott17553137
Wright16383149
Olmsted13406102
Sherburne1202795
Carver1067448
Clay826592
Rice8204110
Blue Earth762744
Crow Wing681895
Kandiyohi668185
Chisago620152
Otter Tail586284
Benton582998
Goodhue484074
Douglas475781
Mower470533
Winona461451
Itasca460163
Isanti440364
McLeod430961
Morrison424962
Beltrami407962
Nobles407750
Steele397816
Polk389072
Becker386755
Lyon363853
Carlton353056
Freeborn347133
Pine334923
Nicollet331345
Mille Lacs311854
Brown308040
Le Sueur297326
Cass286332
Todd285633
Meeker263543
Waseca238023
Martin235333
Roseau211221
Wabasha20793
Hubbard196641
Dodge18783
Renville182846
Redwood176539
Houston174616
Cottonwood167124
Wadena163423
Fillmore157610
Faribault155219
Chippewa154038
Pennington153820
Kanabec146828
Sibley146810
Aitkin138937
Watonwan13579
Rock128719
Jackson122812
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Pope11306
Murray107110
Swift106918
Koochiching95518
Stevens92411
Clearwater89016
Marshall88817
Lake83220
Wilkin83213
Lac qui Parle75622
Big Stone6044
Grant5948
Lincoln5853
Mahnomen5669
Norman5479
Kittson49022
Unassigned48393
Red Lake4017
Traverse3775
Lake of the Woods3453
Cook1720

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 371226

Reported Deaths: 6056
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58274641
Linn21241339
Scott20311248
Black Hawk16180312
Woodbury15241230
Johnson1462285
Dubuque13515211
Dallas1129499
Pottawattamie11233174
Story1072048
Warren583891
Clinton561593
Cerro Gordo554196
Sioux517674
Webster516094
Muscatine4884106
Marshall487176
Des Moines467672
Wapello4337122
Buena Vista427040
Jasper421172
Plymouth403181
Lee382556
Marion366176
Jones301057
Henry294537
Bremer288761
Carroll287252
Boone268534
Crawford268340
Benton260355
Washington257551
Dickinson249344
Mahaska232751
Jackson225242
Clay216727
Kossuth216166
Tama212271
Delaware211143
Winneshiek198935
Page194522
Buchanan194133
Cedar192323
Hardin187544
Fayette186943
Wright186140
Hamilton182051
Harrison179973
Clayton171157
Butler166535
Madison164519
Mills163924
Floyd163542
Cherokee159338
Lyon158941
Poweshiek157136
Allamakee152852
Hancock150334
Iowa149724
Winnebago144531
Cass139255
Calhoun138813
Grundy137433
Emmet135841
Jefferson133335
Shelby131637
Sac130920
Union130035
Louisa129849
Appanoose129049
Mitchell126743
Chickasaw124917
Franklin123523
Guthrie123332
Humboldt119626
Palo Alto113523
Howard105022
Montgomery103638
Clarke101124
Keokuk96832
Monroe96431
Unassigned9550
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Adair87432
Pocahontas85822
Davis85325
Monona83431
Osceola78917
Greene78011
Lucas77923
Worth7628
Taylor66812
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