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Changes to SNAP will have minimal impact in Washington County

A new federal rule limiting the flexibility of states and counties on SNAP eligibility goes into effect in the spring, but it is expected to affect only a few people in Washington County.

SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often called food stamps – is federally funded but channeled through state agencies to the county level. Although able-bodied adults without dependents – generally single, unmarried people age 18-49 who don’t support children and don’t have disabilities – are restricted under federal rules from receiving more than three months of SNAP benefits during a three-year period, states have had the flexibility to designate counties with persistent high unemployment for waivers from the three-month rule, meaning that category of applicants could get additional benefits in places where work is hard to find.

Washington County, like nearly all of Appalachia, has been under waivers for years. A rule filed in the federal register in early December will end that effective April 1.

Flite Freimann, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services office in Washington County, said he expects the effect to be minimal.

“This rule comes as no surprise, they’ve been working on it for at least six months,” Freimann said. “It is not a sweeping, dramatic change, and the policy aligns closely with the Washington County Commissioners’ goals for Job and Family Services, to help people out of poverty by putting them on a path to a career, not just a job. That’s been our focus for quite a while.”

Out of the 7,181 people who received SNAP benefits in the county in November, he said, only 24 fall into the able-bodied adult without dependents category, the only one affected by the new rule.

“It’s a really minuscule number, and we are working with those folks to get them into job training or employment,” he said.

Freimann said Washington County is one of 42 in Ohio with waivers. The work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents is 20 hours of work or training a week, and his agency prefers a long-term plan for each beneficiary.

The impact on the county of the new rule, he said, will “essentially be zero.”

Anyone applying for benefits who might not qualify can go to work for the county at the Job and Family Services building, he said, under the Work Experience Program, but such instances are increasingly rare.

“Over the past two years, we might have five or six a month, but the economy is so strong we haven’t had any at all for at least the past four months,” Freimann said.

The agency has a number of programs for clients trying to get into the workforce.

“People who need help for new employment expenses – clothing, gas, the costs before they get to that first paycheck – we can help them buy slacks, shoes, give them a gas card,” he said. “We sometimes forget what it was like to have to come up with a deposit on an apartment, pay things like the cost of parking, buy lunch before the money starts coming in. There are a lot of people in those challenging situations who don’t how to get out, and there are ways for us to help them.”

Freimann said the agency and others in the county are focused on long-range solutions.

“It is really easy to get somebody a job, but a long-term viable career is the goal. We want to make sure we don’t just check the box, that this is a career opportunity to support them for a long time,” he said. “It is important that people know that when we talk about the cycle of poverty, we’re already looking at the next generation so they don’t end up on our rolls when they are adults.”

The help the Washington County Career Center has provided is crucial to that goal, he said.

“I do not know what we would do without the career center,” he said.

To understand the food benefits available, it is important to understand that they are supplemental, he said. The urban legend about people buying luxury items such as swordfish and filet mignon with food stamps is a myth, he said.

“The average recipient here gets $115 a month, and it would be tough to feed anyone on that. The average SNAP recipient is a working family struggling to make ends meet,” he said.

That struggle also plays out at the Gospel Mission Food Pantry, one of several in Washington County.

“We get people all the time who say they have run out of food stamps,” Gospel Mission food pantry executive director Candy Waite said Wednesday. “It’s usually the second week of the month, but there’s always a huge demand. It’s a blessing we live in such a wonderful, giving community that wants to give everyone help who needs it.”

Michael Kelly can be reached at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

Changes to SNAP eligibility:

• Counties will no longer be granted waivers for able-bodied adults without dependents.

• Federal requirement for such people is three months of SNAP benefits every three years work requirement is met.

• New rule goes into effect April 1.

• Impact in Washington County will be fewer than 30 people.

Source: USDA, Washington County Job and Family Services.

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