House committee votes down food stamp eligibility bill

  • This photo taken Jan. 8, 2014 shows the contents of a specially prepared box of food at a food bank distribution in Petaluma, Calif., part of a research project with Feeding America to try to improve the health of diabetics in food-insecure families. Doctors are warning that the federal government could be socked with a bigger health bill if Congress cuts food stamps _ maybe not immediately, they say, but if the poor wind up in doctors' offices or hospitals as a result. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) Eric Risberg

Monitor staff
Thursday, September 14, 2017

A House subcommittee voted down the latest version of a bill to tighten eligibility requirements for food stamp recipients Thursday in a unanimous vote that will likely halt the bill’s future for now.

Members of a House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs subcommittee, tasked with work-shopping the latest version of Senate Bill 7, instead voted, 9-0, to recommend killing the legislation after concerns that the present version was being rushed.

The bill, which passed the Senate in March but was retained in committee by the House, had been watered down significantly since then. The latest amendment, proposed by Rep. William Marsh, R-Wolfeboro, would have removed large sections of the original bill, keeping only a provision that would tie a family’s food stamp benefits to child support payments by absent parents.

The amendment meant parents or guardians of children under 18 had to cooperate with Department of Health and Human Services child support enforcement rules in order for the family to be eligible to participate in the food stamp program.

That means parents or guardians of a child under 18 with an absent parent would have to file an application with child support services in order for the rest of the family to receive the food stamps, Terry Smith, director of the DHHS Division for Family Assistance, explained to the subcommittee. If the family refused to comply, the parents’ share of the food assistance would be eliminated, though the family would receive money for the children’s share.

The absent parent, meanwhile, would receive no food stamp assistance until the payments were made, according to the amendment.

Marsh’s amendment came under strong criticism by Rep. Charles McMahon, R-Windham, who said it would unfairly punish families with a delinquent parent. He argued that child support payments should be enforced through the court system, not through threats of withholding benefits.

“Someone has left a building ... and is not supporting or responding to their requirements to support the family,” McMahon said. “To use as a hammer the (food stamp) support that this family does need, I do not believe is the New Hampshire way of doing that.”

And McMahon raised concerns about the administrative costs necessary to carry out the new requirements. Neither Smith nor Tim Frazier, an attorney with the Division of Child Support Services, could give financial estimates, but both said it would add to personnel costs.

Absent more detailed information, McMahon moved to recommend killing the bill. Other representatives, including Marsh, agreed that the details behind the proposal could be revisited in depth through a stand-alone bill.

Speaking after the vote, Marsh argued that his amendment would not be overly punitive, but would rather ensure compliance with child support payments, pushing back at McMahon’s metaphor.

“My opinion about hammers is often they are more useful as something that can potentially be used than something that is actually used,” he said. “And sometimes the mere existence of a potential hammer is sufficient to preclude its needing to ever be used.”