“People are at risk of losing important benefits for which they need to survive,” said Bernadette Pelissier, vice chairperson of the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
House Bill 318 prevents the state from employing a waiver that would exempt it from requiring “able‑bodied adults without dependents” receiving food and nutrition services to work. These waivers became available in 2012 to states suffering from high unemployment rates as a result of the recession.
“Our unemployment rate has improved and that’s why we can no longer operate under the waiver,” Pelissier said.
Able-bodied adults without dependents seeking food and nutrition services will have three months to fulfill the work requirement or risk losing their benefits. The work requirement may be fulfilled through a paid job or unpaid work related activities such as job training or volunteer programs.
Orange County offers a food and nutrition services employment and training program.
“Individuals who are applying for Food and Nutrition Services who are currently unemployed can voluntarily enroll in that program and that program will provide case management services to help them locate a job and locate training to find a job, most of which are going to qualify as work related activities,” said Lindsey Shewmaker, human services manager of the Orange County Department of Social Services.
Chapel Hill resident Veronica Lamberth, 55, has received Food and Nutrition Services for the past two months. She doesn’t believe there are enough opportunities for those affected by the policy to meet the work requirements.
“Those people are going to starve and people going to be hungry,” Lamberth said in an email through a Community Empowerment Fund employee. “If there were more companies and resources and jobs then it wouldn’t be a problem.”