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At the end of March, the state estimates that roughly 12,000 unemployed Arkansans will lose their food-stamp benefits because of the imposition of work requirements on adults in the program.

On Jan. 1, the state began enforcing requirements that limit food-assistance benefits to three months for able-bodied, childless adults ages 18-49, if they are not employed, in school, or participating in a job-training or volunteer program. The state is now sending out 12,000 notices to the first round of people who are expected to lose food-stamp benefits April 1.

The three-month limit previously had been waived in Arkansas and several other states as the country struggled through a recession, and unemployment skyrocketed. Now, the federal government is reimposing the requirements.

Arkansas is one of 23 states where the limits are in place for the first time since the recession, according to a report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

The center estimates that between 500,000 and 1 million Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, will have their food-stamp benefits cut this year.

In Arkansas, state agencies and nonprofits, however, are developing options to help recipients meet the new requirements and continue to receive benefits.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the SNAP to Skills program, a two-year program in which federal resources will assist states in building job-training efforts aimed at moving adults off food stamps.

Organizations like the Arkansas Foodbank also offer volunteer opportunities and coordinate with the Department of Human Services in helping volunteers meet food-stamp requirements.

"Our pantries and local agencies are there to help provide them with food they may need," said Rhonda Sanders, chief executive officer of the Arkansas Foodbank.

"We're also working on allowing folks who need job training and job opportunities to hook up with some of our pantries and actually work there and learn skills of how to manage inventory and customer service. Things like that we feel would be a good opportunity for them to enhance job skills," she added.

Though Arkansas' employment rate has recovered to pre-recession levels, many areas in the state are still lagging. Seven counties along the Mississippi River report an average 8 percent unemployment rate -- roughly 2.3 percent above the state average, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These counties, along with 51 others, would still be eligible for exemption from the three-month cap, according to data provided by the state Department of Human Services. To receive exemptions, the counties must receive waivers, something Gov. Asa Hutchinson has chosen not to seek to renew.

"It's personal accountability. If you're receiving these SNAP benefits you can continue to receive those SNAP benefits, but you have to work if you're between 18 and 49 -- that's a conservative philosophy that the governor believes," Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said.

"We want to encourage people to work, and that's what this is about. They're able-bodied and don't have dependents, so there is an opportunity for them to go out there and work. And for those who aren't working, those benefits will be limited," state Department of Human Services spokesman Amy Webb said.

"Able-bodied" includes those who are not pregnant and are not mentally or physically unfit.

Officials also pointed to an improving economy in which many food-stamp recipients are already relinquishing their food stamps. Data show that more than 288,577 households received the benefits in 2015 -- a 3 percent decrease since 2012.

"We believe this recent drop to be reflective of the improving economy across the state, and, therefore, should continue," Webb said.

Exact numbers on how many people will be affected by the food-stamp changes are unknown. The 12,000 notices were sent to people who did not appear to meet work requirements and who were believed to meet the "able-bodied" definition, Webb said.

Arkansas Foodbank officials also said it was too early to say how many food-stamp recipients might take advantage of the opportunities they provide because of the food-stamp changes.

"It's too early in the process to know how it's going to work out. Hopefully as we go through this and have some time under our belts, we'll have a better answer," said the food bank's Chief Program Officer Jayne Ann Kita.

Metro on 03/07/2016

Print Headline: 12,000 Arkansans to get food-stamp shutoff notices

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Comments

  • pcrasehotmailcom
    March 7, 2016 at 1:29 p.m.

    Yep, I was behind a young lady the other day in a convenience store that was using her card to buy 5 Monster Java Energy Drinks. As a productive citizen I felt a tinge of pride knowing that my hard earned tax dollars were helping this person stay awake and energized. I will say that from the looks of her, starvation was not eminent. But hey, there was some good news. She had to whip out her own cash to buy 2 packs of Newports.

  • Morebeer
    March 7, 2016 at 2 p.m.

    Eminent starvation. I like that. Sort of goes with the dignity of poverty. Or whenever W was about to speak, we knew ignorance was imminent.

  • GrimReaper
    March 7, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    Always interesting to see the bleeding hearts advocating shedding blood for the so called poor. The hypocrisy of it is that they inevitably want someone else to do the bleeding. Truth is, poverty in the First World is really a political, not economic, phenomenon. If you want to see real poverty you need to go to Africa or India where there are people surviving on the equivalent of $2 or $3 a day.....and we define it as less than almost $33 a day for one person. I could live comfortably, albeit frugally, on $33 a day if need be. History shows that the very best anti-poverty program is a............job!

  • carpenterretired
    March 7, 2016 at 7:49 p.m.

    At the top of the totem pole there are all the able bodied owners of private airplanes who mooch the use of airports ,air traffic controllers ,FFA etc. paid for by taxpayers off the government,some rural airports are just there of no real use to anyone ,yet then that's welfare for the wealthy.

  • TheRealBroncoFan
    March 7, 2016 at 7:57 p.m.

    It truly is a happy day in Arkansas, now all the so called right wing Real Americans will have to get off their butts. Nice to know that the hillbillies are getting their due. So when go to these back wood good ol boy towns I don't have to see paw paw and aunt sally packing there grocery carts with frozen meals and chew.

  • PopMom
    March 8, 2016 at 5:02 a.m.

    Delta and Carpenterretired both have good points. There are plenty of moochers on both ends of the spectrum. The middle class and the college students are getting squeezed.

    I am most concerned about the number of children in this country who are hungry. I think too many of them are being raised by drug addicts, and social services does not pick up on this. School food programs are the best, because you know the children are getting fed. Unfortunately, I believe that there is a fair amount of graft as to who gets to sell the prepackaged meals to the school kids. I still remember lunches at Williams Elementary with fresh baked bread and cinnamon rolls. Few school systems have real cooks anymore.

  • RaylanGivens
    March 8, 2016 at 8:31 a.m.

    Suck it up, life ain't fair. When one of these folks taken off of food stamps dies from starvation let us know

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