The state Senate on Thursday approved a bill limiting food stamp eligibility, despite objections from Democrats who said it could leave more families hungry.
Republicans challenged those claims, saying the bill is aimed at getting people back to work and would still provide help for needy children.
“What the bill is trying to do is to tighten this program up to make sure that it’s going to be there for the people that truly need it,” Republican Sen. Sharon Carson said.
The federal government pays for food stamps and sets resource and income limits for receiving them. But states have been given latitude to modify the eligibility limits, and in 2009 New Hampshire raised the income threshold for families with children in particular.
Federal law sets the gross income limit at 130 percent of the federal poverty line – or about $26,000 for a family of three. New Hampshire has expanded eligibility for some families to up to 185 percent, or about $37,000 for a family of three, and eliminated an asset test. Officials say about 17,000 households receive food stamps under that modification. A handful of New Hampshire towns with high unemployment are also exempt from the federal 20-hour weekly work requirement through a waiver.
But the legislation would end those exemptions. It says New Hampshire can’t impose limits beyond the federal caps, or seek waivers from the work requirements in most cases. It would give a legislative committee power to approve exemptions for households with minor children – a provision Republicans say would ensure children aren’t harmed.
Democrats disagreed and challenged Republican assertions that the bill will ensure food stamp recipients are getting back to work.
“It opens a door to 17,000 households getting their food stamps cut or reduced,” said Democratic Sen. Dan Feltes, who used to work as a legal aid lawyer. “Less food is not more incentive to work; it inhibits work, it inhibits learning, it inhibits opportunity.”
The bill also requires families to cooperate with the state’s child support services division to ensure absent parents are paying child support.
New Hampshire Public Radio reported a Florida-based think tank called the Foundation for Government Accountability has helped push the legislation in New Hampshire and other states.
The bill must go to a second Senate committee before moving to the House.