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Oklahoma House speaker scales back food stamp work requirement

House Speaker T.W. Shannon has scaled back requirements on food stamp eligibility, but some Oklahomans who receive the benefits say lawmakers have the wrong perception of them.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT AND ADAM KEMP Published: March 8, 2013

It will be heard next week, the last week in which measures filed in the House can be heard on whether to advance to the Senate.

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 a DHS spokesman. The paper food stamps were replaced years ago with a debit card.

Currently, an able-bodied adult without dependents can get SNAP benefits for only three months in a 36-month period if they do not work or participate in a workfare or employment and training program other than job search, said Mark Beutler, a DHS spokesman.

The maximum amount that a single able-bodied person can make to be eligible for benefits is $1,211 a month, or $14,532 a year. For a four-member household, the maximum income is $2,498 a month or $29,976; the maximum food benefits that family could receive is $167 a week, or $668 a month.

Shannon's original bill, which called for those who are between the ages of 18 to 50 and who are not disabled or raising a child to perform at least 35 hours of work activities to receive food stamps, has been scaled back. Activities include job seeking and career training, volunteer work and/or education directly related to employment opportunities.

What bill will cost

A fiscal analysis by House staff estimated the cost of implementing Shannon's original bill would be $18.8 million a year to pay for additional staff, developing work components, contractual costs, training and system changes. Shannon's amended bill has zero additional cost, according to House staff.

Shannon's HB 1909, along with another measure, HB 2014, is causing anxiety among some who receive SNAP benefits. HB 2014, which also is expected to be heard next week in the House, would disqualify people with felony drug convictions from receiving the benefits. It also would make those who have more than $5,000 in cash, in a bank account or in stocks and bonds ineligible to receive food benefits.

Concerns about future

Those sitting in the dingy waiting room at a DHS center off Kelley Avenue said Thursday they are trying to figure out how to put dinner on the table.

Ruby Bray has two children and, with another on the way. The 30-year old woman said a felony conviction in 2003 for intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance has ended with most of her job applications being tossed.

Bray said the SNAP food benefits are enough to feed her children every night as it stands now, but she is scared the measures — if they become law — could keep food out of her children's mouths.

“I've tried to find work and I've tried to get a job but nobody wants to hire an ex-con,” she said. “I know that's my fault but that was 10 years ago. I'm just trying to start over new and survive now.”