PHOENIX — The Republican-controlled Arizona House on Thursday advanced a proposal that could cut off nearly 80,000 people from the state's food stamp program, despite assurances from the sponsor two months ago that he would remove the provision.
Republican Rep. Justin Olson's bill is mainly aimed at cutting fraud and includes lifetime bans for some violations of food stamp rules. Senate Bill 1161 also bars anyone who is behind in their child support payments from getting food stamps.
Olson promised House members in March he would remove a part of the bill blocking the state from seeking or renewing waivers on federal work requirement waivers to receive food stamp benefits. The bill stalled in the Senate, and he revived the components this week.
Olson's new version contains the ban on Arizona seeking waivers, but it adds a provision allowing them if a GOP-controlled Legislative panel and the governor agree. The work requirements, contained in a 1990s-era welfare reform, apply to able-bodied adults with no dependents.
Democrats argued that Olson's proposal in effect is a ban, since Republicans on the panel or Gov. Doug Ducey could easily block any waiver requests. The federal government grants the waivers when entire states or certain areas have high unemployment. They also say it continues the narrative from some Republicans that public assistance encourages dependency and could affect children living with some of the people cut off.
"I think the reality is we are up against an ideology here — the same ideology that we don't want to provide health care for kids because its creates dependency," said Rep. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, referring to GOP lawmakers blocking a children's health insurance program this week. "I don't think we should be worried about creating dependency when we're talking about kids who are hungry."
But Olson said requiring able-bodied people to be actively seeking work or actually working is a reasonable expectation and that the "doomsday scenarios" some opponents suggested "would not occur."
"This is a good bill that makes good reforms," he said.
Other provisions require the Department of Economic Security to add photo identification to benefit cards, though recipients could choose to decline to have their photos taken. Legislative analysts estimate it would cost $12 million in the first year and $8 million annually.
Nearly 1 million people receive benefits through the state's food stamps program at an average monthly allowance of $120 per person as of January, according to legislative analysts.
The House advanced the measure Thursday on a voice vote. It awaits a formal vote and must return to the Senate for a final vote.