A change in state policy will end access to Food Stamps for thousands of Alaskans.
A letter sent out from the Division of Public Assistance on June 24th to all state residents receiving Food Stamps says “able-bodied adults without dependents” who do not meet the program’s work requirements will no longer be eligible three months into the new year.
Most food stamp recipients will not be affected. The work requirements hit those who are between ages 18 and 49, do not have a noted disability status, and have no dependents.
But the letter has left many worried they will lose important access to food.
“We received… five, six calls just in the last week,” said Derrick Pennington, who works for the LINKS Mat-Su Parent Resource Center in Wasilla, although he added most of the clients he serves fall within the exempted categories.
Still, Pennington said many feel unsure, “Folks who received the letter and are just really confused about whether or not their benefits are going to be impacted. ”
Work requirements have been a contentious part of public assistance rules since a 1996 change to the federal laws. Alaska suspended the work requirements in 2004 because of high unemployment rates.
The state’s Department of Health and Social Services has also fielded questions from concerned residents, according to Public Information Officer Sarana Schell. In an email, Schell wrote, “With improving economic conditions throughout the country, many states no longer qualify for these statewide waiver, including Alaska.”
Officials have requested a waiver covering 28 borough and census areas, along with 155 native villages where unemployment is 20 percent above the national average. The only area not covered by that request is Anchorage, where as many as 3,000 residents stand to be affected.
Schell wrote the Public Assistance Director’s letter is intended to inform recipients about how to meet work requirements so as to keep as many people as possible qualified for the Food Stamps program.