Advocates for the hungry in Arkansas are hoping the U.S. Senate’s farm bill will not include House-approved work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). All four members of Arkansas’s House delegation voted for the $867 billion farm bill, which requires most able-bodied adults work 20 hours per week or enroll in job training in order to keep food benefits.
Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance Director Kathy Webb worries the work requirement will end up harming those that SNAP is supposed to benefit.
"Most people who are on SNAP are either disabled, already working or elderly. This seems to us [to be] an effort to punish poor people," said Webb. "It’s a myth that people get on SNAP and stay forever. That’s just simply not the case."
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports 388,000 Arkansas residents enrolled in SNAP last fiscal year, or about 13 percent of the population. That number has declined by more than almost three-quarters of families enrolled include children. That’s slightly higher than the national average of 68 percent.
U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman, R-A.R., of the state's 4th Congressional District backs the new requirement saying in a statement, "there is no better anti-poverty program than a job."
"One of the most notable changes in this farm bill is adding a work requirement for able-bodied, working-age adults without young children at home who receive SNAP benefits," said Rep. Westerman. "That is why we introduced this important language that requires work, technical education or even volunteer service to receive these benefits. As I travel throughout Arkansas, I see a growing economy with record low unemployment and employers eager to hire."
Democratic hopeful Joshua Mahoney of the 3rd Congressional District opposes the work requirement.
"There’s a challenge there more than anything of saying, 'You’ve got one month to find employment.' Sometimes in Arkansas there are places that don’t have a lot of job opportunities. I’m a little offended by the idea that this work requirement is an incentive when most people that are on SNAP benefits, if they are able to work, are trying to be employed or they already are but still need benefits," Mahoney said.
The Republican incumbent in the district, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-A.R., declined to comment specifically on the SNAP requirement. His office commented on the Farm Bill broadly.
"Agriculture is critical to the Arkansas economy, and the top two farm income counties in Arkansas are in the 3rd District. A vibrant farm economy is essential... and farm policy plays a key role in the success of our farming community. I am pleased that this important legislation has finally passed the House after being caught in the crossfire of an unrelated issue last month and call on the Senate to move swiftly to aid our nation’s producers," Womack said.
The Senate considers its own version without a work requirement this week. The two chambers will have to reconcile their versions of the farm bill.
KUAR has requested comment from Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton, but we have not yet received a response.