Arkansas is one of 10 states that will intensify efforts to move able-bodied food stamp recipients into the work force.
The federal Agriculture Department operates the food stamp program, which is technically known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is commonly referred to as SNAP. According to the head of the department, Arkansas was chosen because "it does a pretty good job of using the resources they have."
Also, the mix of rural and urban populations in Arkansas makes it a good model for other states to copy.
The new effort is called Snap to Skills and is designed for adults between the ages of 18 and 50 who are considered able bodied and are mentally fit, and who are not caring for dependent children.
Under a newly enforced provision of federal law, this population stands to be cut off from the food stamp program after three months, beginning in 2016, unless they work 20 hours a week or are enrolled in job training. Arkansas is one of 23 states that will now limit able-bodied recipients to three months during a three-year period. The three-month limit will affect an estimated 500,000 people nationwide and 30,000 in Arkansas.
The Snap to Skills program recognizes the difficulty in finding work, or job training, in impoverished areas. Recipients can continue to get food stamps while they take education and training classes.
The federal job requirement was originally written into federal law in 1996, as part of then President Bill Clinton's notable welfare reform bill. "We are ending welfare as we know it," President Clinton said when he signed the bill.
One of the bill's most stringent provisions, that able-bodied food stamp recipient either work or take job training, was waived in 2008 because of high unemployment rates due to the economic downturn. Because the economy has improved, those waivers expired at the beginning of this year.
The other nine states that will participate in Snap to Skills are Arizona, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Arkansas will begin Snap to Skills in these 13 counties: Independence, White, Drew, Faulkner, Hempstead, Miller, Pope, Hot Spring, Grant, Craighead, Union, Sebastian and Crittenden.
According to the federal Agriculture Department, about 46 million Americans will receive food stamps during the year. About half of them are children and about nine percent are older than 60. About 40 percent live in a household in which someone has a job.
The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and the Kaiser Family Foundation both calculate that in Arkansas the average food stamp benefit is $112 per month per person.
State government collected $279.9 million in net available revenue in February, an amount that prompted cautious optimism among budget officials that the state would end the fiscal year with a surplus of about $35.9 million.
The forecast is that the state's general revenue spending for the current fiscal year will total $5.19 billion. For the first eight months of this fiscal year, net available revenue is 2.2 percent above the same period last year.