Diana Tampkins may be among the majority of Oklahomans who won't be affected by a proposed law that would require able-bodied Oklahomans with no dependents to perform at least 20 hours of work activities to receive federal food stamps.
Tampkins, 53, of Oklahoma City, is single and has no dependents. She said Monday she has received the minimum $200 monthly allotment of food stamps in the past; she has been hurt on the job twice and is in the process of seeing doctors about whether she would be considered disabled because of earlier injuries to her right arm and leg.
She said she is undecided about House Bill 1909, which easily passed the House of Representatives on Monday after it was changed reducing the weekly work requirement from 35 to 20 hours. It now goes to the Senate.
“It depends on what all goes in there,” Tampkins said. “I would have to hear the final details of it. I just hope that they don't leave people to where they can't get anything to eat.”
HB 1909 passed 86-11. It now goes to the Senate.
HB 1909 would require people ages 18 to 50 who are not disabled or raising a child to perform at least 20 hours of work activities as a condition of receiving federal food benefits.
Activities would include job seeking and career training, volunteer work and/or education directly related to employment opportunities.
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said the change would affect about 1,000 food benefit recipients. About 617,000 Oklahomans are receiving federal food benefits; 56 percent are adults, Nelson said.
Currently, able-bodied individuals do not have to fulfill work requirements.
“It's time we encourage the value of personal responsibility,” said House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, the bill's author. “This measure will help able-bodied people break their addiction to government subsidies and let them focus on building a career as opposed to continually suffering under the wheel of poverty.”
Shannon's amendment reinstates a 1996 federal requirement that able-bodied persons without dependents must work at least 20 hours a week or participate in a work program to be eligible to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
In 2009, the federal government allowed states to seek a waiver from that requirement.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which administers the program, sought and was granted a waiver.
“It's time to get back to this 20-hour work requirement,” Nelson said.
An able-bodied adult without dependents with no income could receive up to $50 a week, or $7.15 a day, in SNAP benefits, according to the DHS.
Paper food stamps were replaced years ago with a debit card.
Are jobs available?
Many of the 29 Democrats in the House who originally opposed Shannon's bill voted for the measure because the requirement reverted back to the 1996 law.
“We don't want to punish people that are doing their best,” said Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City. “Let's not hurt the people that need it most.”
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, asked, “Are you confident that there are the jobs available for this segment of the population to get back to work?”
Nelson said Oklahoma's unemployment numbers are among the lowest in the country.
“Can everybody find a job? I don't know,” he said. “But what we don't want to do and what the people of Oklahoma don't want to be doing is subsidizing people that are single and able-bodied when our economy in Oklahoma is doing very well.”