Review questions how Family Services handled case of malnourished child found in filth, covered in cockroaches _lowres

DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier

A change in state policy could result in 64,000 Louisiana residents losing their food stamp benefits — nearly one-third of them in Mid-City New Orleans, northern neighborhoods in East Baton Rouge Parish and western areas of Jefferson Parish.

The individuals must find part-time work or be involved in workforce training by Jan. 1, otherwise they will be booted from the program.

The change impacts able-bodied adults with no dependents, ages 18 to 49.

“We believe that the more people work, the better for the state, the better for the individual and their families,” state Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonnier said Thursday. “It truly is a win,-win.”

She said the sole goal of the effort is “self-sufficiency.”

But Louisiana Budget Project Director Jan Moller called the move “absolutely heartless.”

“We are all in favor of self-sufficiency, but it’s not that easy in this economy,” Moller said. He noted the unemployment rate in certain areas of the state is “well below the national average,” as well as the state’s labor force participation rate.

“This is a mean-spirited, unwise decision that leaves federal money on the table to help people put food on the table,” said Moller, whose Budget Project advocates on behalf of low- and moderate-income people.

Benefits paid under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, are totally federally funded, so no state budget funds are being saved.

Under the change, which went into effect Thursday, able-bodied adults will be required to work no less than 20 hours a week or be enrolled in a federally approved job training program. If the requirement is not met by Jan. 1, the food stamp dollars, which average $194 a month, end. Sonnier said the 20-hour-a-week work requirement can be met by doing approved volunteer work or in a nonpaid job.

Children and Family Services is working with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, which is available to help people find jobs and skills training, Sonnier said.

The most recipients impacted live in Midtown New Orleans, 7,772; followed by those living in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish, 7,020; and then western parts of Jefferson Parish, 4,171. Lafayette Parish has 2,431 recipients.

The state had been given special federal permission to grant the benefits without enforcing the three-month time limit on work or work-related activity because of Louisiana’s economic situation. The state opted not to apply for an extension.

Moller said efforts were made to get the state to apply for a partial extension involving parishes where unemployment is well above the national average, such as those in the Delta area of northeast Louisiana. But he said those efforts were rebuffed.

“The good news is the state can change its mind,” he said.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage from the State Capitol, follow Louisiana politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/