Alabama Senator Proposes New Food Stamp Restrictions

| by Robert Fowler
Alabama State CapitolAlabama State Capitol

Republican state Sen. Arthur Orr of Alabama has sponsored a bill that would slap new requirements for recipients of SNAP benefits and Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF).

The Alabama Senate’s Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee deliberated the legislation and approved it by 10 to 3 votes, sending it on its way to the Senate, Montgomery Advertiser reports.

On face value, Orr’s bill would ask the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) to measure the assets and income of applicants to determine if they should receive welfare assistance.

They DHR would be required to compile data with the Alabama Medicaid Agency into a computerized database to keep track of welfare eligibility, WAAYTV reports.

If a recipient of SNAP or TANF benefits is found in violation of DHR requirements on a three strike basis, they will be barred from the programs for up to a year.

“We want to get people working back in the workforce and not hanging out for public benefits because they can,” Orr said.

While ensuring that recipients of taxpayer-funded welfare actually qualify sounds like a reasonable measure, Orr’s bill has received a huge amount of controversy and blowback, largely due to the ramifications of what he’s proposing.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to stop this,” Democratic state Sen. Rodger Smitherman of Alabama said during the committee deliberations. “I am not going to let you do this to these people. I am not going to let people starve.”

Critics of Orr’s bill say that it would place a burden on Alabama families, punishing SNAP and TANF recipients who simply cannot find unemployment in areas where jobs are on short supply.

“People just aren’t dependent,” said analyst Carol Gundlach of Alabama Arise. “That’s a myth. People go on and off these programs all the time, particularly TANF.”

The analyst added that, in her view, there are already enough requirements placed on welfare recipients and “if any barriers are added to the SNAP program, we know families will fall through the cracks.”

There is also controversy of what Orr’s bill would consider “assets” for welfare recipients. Critics of the bill have pointed out that vehicles would be included in this estimate, which would be problematic for recipients who have to drive to work, which is likely the vast majority.

It has been clarified that only cars valued over $4,650 would be included as an asset. However, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte points out that that this is a small comfort for welfare recipients.

“The value is set so low that unless you’re driving a fairly old car — which is more likely to be stacking up expensive repairs that low income people can’t afford — you’re basically screwed,” Marcotte wrote. “So no, don’t consider this one debunked.”

77 percent or TANF benefits go to children. As of the fiscal year of 2014, 900,000 Alabama residents received SNAP benefits.

Sources: Montgomery Advertiser, Salon, WAAYTV / Photo credit: Jim Bowen / Flickr

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