RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is criticizing a state budget provision by Senate Republicans that his administration says would block federal food stamp benefits to more than 130,000 people who qualify because they’re also receiving other government benefits.
Media outlets report the change approved in the budget last week would roll back eligibility requirements for what’s called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that had been expanded during the Great Recession. Otherwise, households making no more than slightly above the federal poverty level would qualify for the food help if the provision became law.
The provision wasn’t discussed during Senate floor debate. GOP Sen. Ralph Hise of Mitchell County said this week the change seeks to ensure the truly neediest people receive the food benefit.
Right now, people can qualify for food stamps if they receive other government assistance benefits, like disability payments, even if their income level is higher than the maximums to receive the food assistance. This “broad-based categorical eligibility” creates a double standard, according to Hise, allowing people to avoid an asset test to prove they need the food help.
“You’ve got a family of four making $40,000 who can’t qualify because their children are school-aged, but you’ve got another family that maybe makes more, but who qualifies for child care subsidies and therefore qualifies for food stamps as well,” Hise said.
Cooper’s office provided data Wednesday showing the provision would cut the food assistance benefits for nearly 133,000 people statewide, including 51,000 children. The food program is paid for with federal funds.
“This food makes a real difference for families who need it and doesn’t cost North Carolina any state tax money,” Cooper said in a release, contrasting the provision with other GOP budget changes that cut income tax rates for all residents, including the highest wage-earners. “Lining the pockets of millionaires while going out of the way to make it harder for children to eat is just wrong.”
The budget debate now goes to the House, which will approve its own version in the coming weeks. The two chambers will then negotiate a final measure to present to Cooper.
The eligibility proposal comes less than a year after the state fully reinstated work, volunteer or education requirements for able-bodied adults under 50 with no children to receive food stamps. That change affected about 115,000 people. There is a three-month grace period for recipients.