As the job market improves in North Carolina, many of the state’s food stamp recipients will find themselves having to work for their benefits in 2016.
That will certainly be true in Orange County, where about 1,500 of the county’s estimated 11,800 recipients of Food and Nutrition Services will be subject to newly reinstated time-sensitive work requirements, The Daily Tar Heel reports.
The rules stipulate that any able-bodied adult with no children at home must work, volunteer or participate in a work-training program 20 hours a week in order to remain eligible for benefits. Such recipients will have three months, after the first of the year, to meet the requirements, or they risk losing their benefits.
These stipulations are a return to old rules put in place by the 1996 federal welfare reform laws called, collectively, The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, The Asheville Citizen-Times reported in September.
The work requirements were suspended in North Carolina, as in many other states, during the recession as jobs were difficult to find. The suspension was made possible by a waiver from the federal government.
But that waiver expires Dec. 31, and the North Carolina legislature has already passed House Bill 318 which will reinstate the work requirements. The phased implementation begins Jan. 1 in 23 counties, of which Orange County is one.
“People are at risk of losing important benefits for which they need to survive,” Bernadette Pelissier, vice chairperson of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, told The Daily Tar Heel.
The state secured a partial waiver for 2016, so counties that are still recovering have a little more time, according to the Citizen-Times. But all counties are planned to be phased in by year’s end, despite 77 of them still being eligible for a waiver.
Orange County’s relative economic health means their waiver ends Jan. 1, according to The Daily Tar Heel.
“Our unemployment rate has improved and that’s why we can no longer operate under the waiver,” Pelissier said.
Veronica Lamberth, 55, told The Daily Tar Heel through an email shared by a Community Empowerment Fund employee, that she has been receiving assistance for two months and doesn’t believe the county has the jobs to justify the work requirements.
“Those people are going to starve and people going to be hungry,” Lamberth wrote of people eligible for the requirement. “If there were more companies and resources and jobs then it wouldn’t be a problem.”
But Lindsey Shewmaker, human services manager of the Orange County Department of Social Services, said that the county is offering an employment and training program to help people avoid losing their benefits.
“Individuals who are applying for Food and Nutrition Services who are currently unemployed can voluntarily enroll in that program and that program will provide case management services to help them locate a job and locate training to find a job, most of which are going to qualify as work related activities,” she said.