Food assistance could end for thousands of mountain families

The food stamp program is federally funded. Cutting benefits in North Carolina may actually cost state tax payers more money. (Photo credit: MGN Online)

A North Carolina Senate budget provision would end food stamp benefits for 130,000 people in North Carolina, more than 50,000 of which are under the age of 18.

That's according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, obtained by NC Child.

More than 3,000 individuals would be affected in Buncombe County, with 9,000 individuals affected across Western North Carolina. Click here to see a complete breakdown of individuals and children affected by county.

The provision (section 11C.11 - page 113) would reduce the number of individuals and families eligible for FNS benefits (SNAP federally), also known as food stamps. Eligibility for the program was extended during the recession in 2010 to include households with incomes up to 200 percent (Section 285) of the federal poverty level.

The provision would also eliminate broad-based or categorical eligibility, which automatically enrolls individuals and families for food stamps if they qualify for other poverty-related assistance.

Hannah Randall, CEO for MANNA FoodBank in Asheville, says eliminating broad categorical eligibility would actually cost the state more money.

"It means that individual departments of health and human services would then have to reassess, retest people to qualify for benefits, so we would actually lose federal funding and cost the North Carolina State budget," she said.

According to NC Child, many children who lose SNAP benefits would also lose access to free and reduced meals in school.

This provision of the bill was crafted by a local senator from Spruce Pine, Ralph Hise. Hise gave the following statement to News 13 about the provision:

"This provision closes a loophole that ballooned under the Obama administration allowing people to qualify for food stamps even if they wouldn’t otherwise be eligible because they have valuable assets or savings in the bank. The purpose of the change is to ensure benefits are delivered to those who are truly in need of them."

Other supporters of the provision say this will cut abuse and misuse of the food stamp program.

"Two kinds of help in the world, help to get by and help to get ahead and you can use food stamps either way," Buncombe County GOP Chair Carl Mumpower told News 13. "I think we all know we have a lot of people who use them to avoid personal accountability. That’s not a good thing. Restraint is appropriate under those circumstances."

The cut to this provision follows last year's reinstatement of eligibility requirements for able bodied individuals under 50 with no children. In order for those people to qualify, recipients "must work at least 80 hours per month, participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 80 hours per month, or comply with a workfare program."

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