WASHINGTON (FNS) -- An estimated 400,000 food stamp recipients whose benefits were to be slashed March 1 are eligible for a reprieve.
Under new welfare law, food stamp benefits for certain recipients were to be curtailed to three months every three years, unless they work, look for work or are in job training at least 20 hours a week. Subject recipients who were to fall under the new proviso were single and childless people who don't have jobs.
But several states have applied for a waiver from this requirement. Their requests for waivers are based on language in the welfare law that calls for exemptions for areas with an unemployment rate higher than 10%.
The law also grants an exemption when communities are deemed to have an insufficient number of jobs -- a description that was not further defined, and upon which states are now capitalizing.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already granted one-year waivers for several areas in 13 states, including Newark, Trenton and Camden, N.J., and most of West Virginia. States are looking at these waivers as essential to maintaining a safety net for a group of unemployed who typically are ineligible for other public assistance.
Supermarkets benefit from cash flow generated by the food stamp program, but it's difficult to measure the lift in sales the exemptions could produce, said Tom Wenning, vice president and general counsel for the National Grocers Association, Reston, Va.
"I would assume that if recipients had to go find a job, they would still buy food with those other resources," Wenning said.
A spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute here said the association hopes the entire program remains intact as its administration shifts to the states in the form of Automatic Benefit Transfer debit cards.
"We want to make sure the government program remains as it is and that electronic benefits transfer is used," said the spokeswoman.