N.H. food stamp bill retained until next year

  • Protestors stand in the hallways of the Legislative Office Building last week to oppose Senate Bill 7, which proposes tightening eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. After a House committee vote Tuesday, the bill has been tabled until next year. Elodie Reed / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Senate Bill 7, often referred to as the “food stamp bill,” may eventually lose the food stamp component altogether.

But it will have to wait until next year after a House committee voted to retain the bill Tuesday. Some members that did so called the efforts to cut down assistance for New Hampshire’s food-insecure “unconscionable.”

“I think the bill needs work,” said Wolfeboro Republican Rep. William Marsh, a member of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee. “We all recognize that and we’re not capable of doing that in a short period of time.”

The bill was originally introduced by Nashua Republican Sen. Kevin Avard as a measure to tighten eligibility limits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Among the proposals were discontinuing the waiver of federal work requirements, reducing income limits for applicants and stipulating that child support payments be made.

Following an approved Senate floor amendment proposed by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfboro Republican, SB 7 gained an additional function: establishing the Granite Workforce pilot program.

Using $9 million from the state’s federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant, the program would subsidize employers with high workforce needs to employ parents with children at or below 200 percent of the poverty level.

In the meantime, the TANF funds would help applicants overcome barriers like child care and job training.

“Taken together, these measures are designed to help low-income participants break the cycle of poverty and move them from living on the margin to the middle class and beyond,” the amendment reads.

Last week, Bradley and Avard presented both components to the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee as ways to help people get off of welfare assistance.

“There’s a problem, there are abuses in the system,” Avard said.

He has previously said that his own daughter is owed $29,000 in child support.

He added that food insecurity “is a real thing. But what is driving food insecurity?”

The Granite Workforce pilot program, Avard said, is part of the effort “to get (people) into a life that’s not dependent on the state.”

Bradley noted that the new version of the bill also included a safety valve, in case someone who really needed food stamps suddenly didn’t qualify. The bill provides the ability to petition the Health and Human Services Oversight Committee.

“This is something the Senate committee worked long and hard on to make sure this is a balanced bill,” Bradley said.

Members of the House committee, however, didn’t see the connection between the two pieces of the bill, and committee member Rep. Joseph Guthrie, a Hampstead Republican, drew up an amendment to split the bill.

He said during Tuesday’s executive session on the topic, “I got the feeling with the first section of the bill that it was a solution looking for a problem.”

Terry Smith, director of the Division of Family Services at the state Department of Health and Human Services, told the committee last week that these abuses of SNAP benefits were few.

“We can state that empirically New Hampshire’s fraud is 1 percent or less,” he said. Alternately, officials have said previously that the bill’s suggested cuts could affect 17,000 people in the state.

U.S. Department of Agriculture data show that in fiscal year 2015, that would make up about 16 percent of Granite Staters receiving food assistance.

Numerous members of the committee said during Tuesday’s executive session that the workforce program was promising, but the original food stamp reductions were not.

“I absolutely deplore the first part,” said Rep. Lucy Weber, a Walpole Democrat.

The committee voted unanimously to retain the bill instead of amending it into two separate items after committee chairman Rep. Frank Kotowski, a Hooksett Republican, said it wasn’t likely to survive a return to the Senate.

“This is a Senate bill important to a lot of people sitting on the Senate side,” he said.

The vote came as big relief to some, including the members of the New Hampshire Voices of Faith. Some members have been fasting in protest of the food stamp portion of the bill.

Concord Friends Meeting member and Quaker Rob Spencer said that he had been planning to fast Tuesday, but didn’t feel the need any longer with the SB 7 fight postponed for another year.

“This is our prayers being answered,” he said.

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter