A needless bill from heartless Republicans

The Observer editorial board

A bill before the N.C. Senate would ban some exemptions to food stamp work requirements.
A bill before the N.C. Senate would ban some exemptions to food stamp work requirements. 2011 OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

There are occasions, when Republicans make cuts to programs that serve the needy, that the decision comes with an arguable fiscal rationale. Perhaps the expenditure is redundant, or the payoff doesn’t justify the money spent on such a program.

Then there are the occasions when such decisions are just mean.

On Monday, N.C. senators will vote on a last-minute bill that would ban the state Department of Health and Human Services from issuing waivers exempting food stamp recipients from federal work requirements. These waivers are granted by the federal government in counties with double-digit unemployment or otherwise dire conditions for workers.

In other words, the exemptions go to people who need them most. Under House Bill 318, they won’t get them.

Keep in mind that the food stamps are issued under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is paid for with federal dollars. That means HB 318, if it passes, won’t save North Carolina money. In fact, the bill’s passage could be costly to retailers that sell food, especially in the rural areas that see SNAP dollars because of double-digit unemployment.

Mostly, though, it will hurt those who need help in N.C. counties where there isn’t enough work to go around.

It’s far from the first example of legislative heartlessness in North Carolina. Two years ago, ours was the only state to cut off benefits for pregnant women and new mothers in the wake of a federal government shutdown. That bad decision lasted only hours, before DHHS officials reversed themselves when reporters started asking questions.

We also were the first state to cut off federal unemployment compensation for the long-term jobless, turning away $780 million the feds were offering that same year to unemployed North Carolinians. Earlier this month, state lawmakers decided to try a little more tough love on those who had the gall to be unemployed, requiring that they show evidence of five contacts a week with potential employers instead of two. All the provision did was create more paperwork for those trying to find a job, as well as employers who had to process unnecessary applications.

The rationale for lawmakers then and now is the same: The jobless need a shove to look for work. “I think you’re going to see a lot of them go and get that 20-hour-a-week job, or they’re going to enroll in some sort of higher education to improve their job skills,” Sen. Norman Sanderson, a Republican from Pamlico County, said of the ban on SNAP waivers.

That presumes there are an alarming number of benefits recipients who aren’t already trying to get jobs. It’s a common refrain among conservatives, but as usual, Sanderson and his fellow Republicans offered no statistical basis for the assumption.

If Republicans have some new information about widespread SNAP fraud in North Carolina, we’d sure like to see it. But in their endless hunt for people who might possibly be taking advantage of government programs, they continue to needlessly hurt people who truly could use some help.