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Arkansas House Committee Advances Bills Concerning SNAP Benefits, Oral Contraceptive Prescriptions

Arkansas House

A bill that would eliminate some exemptions of a work requirement in order to receive supplemental nutrition assistance has advanced to the House, after a committee approved it Thursday.

The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee by a voice vote advanced House Bill 1512 which removes "no-good-cause" exemptions to a work requirement for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also called food stamps.

According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, those between the ages of 18 to 49 and who have no dependents, or other qualifying exemptions, can be subject to the Abled Body and Without Dependants (ABAWD) work requirement in order to receive their SNAP benefits.

In presenting his bill to the committee, Rep. Kendon Underwood, R-Cave Springs, said in addition to "good cause" exceptions from the requirements, such as a lack of transportation, under federal law, Arkansas can exempt up to 12% of food stamp enrollees from the work requirement.

"If a state does not use their total allotment, they can stockpile those, the unused exemptions, year after year, further disincentivizing people to find work and taking advantage of training opportunities," Underwood said.

Tomiko Townley, with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, spoke against the legislation.

"Our state currently uses these discretionary exemptions in smart ways. We are not abusing these discretions. We are not stockpiling them and then exempting tens of people. The fact that we have been appropriately using these discretionary exemptions since the removal of the statewide waiver in 2015 demonstrates their value," Townley said.

The bill now goes to the House where it could be voted on as early as Monday. 

The committee also advanced by voice vote a bill that would allow Arkansas pharmacists to provide oral contraceptives to patients.

House Bill 1069, which would allow pharmacists in the state to dispense at least six months’ worth of oral contraceptives to a patient.

Under the bill, pharmacists must complete a training program on oral contraceptives that has been approved by the Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy. They must also screen patients seeking oral contraceptives on whether the patient has been seen by a primary care provider or a woman’s healthcare provider in the last six months.

If the patient has not, the pharmacists can refer them to a provider as well as prescribe up to a six months’ supply of oral contraceptives.

Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville is the bill’s sponsor. In speaking for the bill he said similar legislation is being passed in both red and blue states.

"We build bridges on policy all the time to try to get to the common ground as some would say. So I think this is a bridge building piece of legislation to become a more pro-life state. [But] at the same time, understand that by expanding access to contraceptives is a way to do that that’s proven to be effective," Pilkington said.  

Fred Hart, an attorney in Little Rock, spoke against the legislation, saying the wider availability of contraceptives promotes promiscuity.

Though a concern over the possibility of patients receiving more than six months of oral contraceptives by going to multiple pharmacies was brought up, the bill passed with no dissenting votes heard. Pilkington agreed to address that concern in the legislation.

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