Changes could come to welfare, food stamps

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A bill focused on revamping food stamp benefits and welfare is making progress at the Statehouse. It’s been approved by the House, and is heading to the Senate. House Bill 1351 contains several different programs to revise current benefits.

The bill’s author, Representative Jud McMillin, said the changes are meant to serve as a hand up, rather than a hand out.

“I think the differences that you see basically still break down along the philosophical divide on how we help people. Everybody agrees that we want to help folks and, there’s a segment of society that believes we need to help folks by creating opportunities for them and requiring them pull themselves up by their boot straps. There’s a philosophical difference from those people who tend to lean more towards where we should just provide more for them and hope that eventually providing those things will get them out of poverty,” said McMillin.

The bill affects people who sign up for support through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF program. Under the new legislation, people seeking TANF benefits would be required to also take a written test. It’s a nationally utilized model and shows a person’s likelihood to use illegal drugs. If the test reveals a potential substance abuse problem, the individual would then be subject to random drug-testing.

Representative McMillin said testing positive doesn’t necessarily mean losing benefits altogether.

“If they fail the random drug-test, it’s important to note that they don’t have to lose their benefits. What happens is we urge them to get into a treatment program. As long as they can show some signs that they are trying to get themselves cleaned up, they can continue to receive their benefits,” said McMillin.

If adults do lose their benefits, the bill would still allow for their children to receive the benefits. Representative McMillin said the goal of the bill is to help people get back on their feet and provide opportunities for change.

“The biggest thing I’m interested in working on is trying to help people get back on their feet. I think everybody acknowledges that we want to help people and I personally believe that you do help people who are in difficult situations by providing them opportunities and encouraging them to take advantage of those opportunities,” said McMillin.

The bill would also create standards for what foods people can buy with food stamps. Lawmakers want people to make more nutritional choices, and they’re trying to figure out what foods fit into that category.

State representatives voted in favor of the bill Monday. If the Senate passes it, the bill would affect people on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Representative McMillin wants the changes to serve as opportunities for positive and permanent change.

“I think there are some long-term solutions that we need to look into that quite frankly have been overlooked for generations, and I think what we see right now is the effect of possibly creating generational opportunities for people to continue to receive hand-outs instead of hand-ups, and we need to start making that change,” said McMillin.

Under the current rules, people can’t use food stamps to buy alcohol, fast food, or cigarettes. If the new bill is passed, the changes would go into effect in July.

A full copy of the bill can be found here.

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