As practice for when he gets to be governor, John Bel Edwards is trying to use his clout before actually taking the oath of office.
He is asking the state and federal governments to roll back a decision taken by his predecessor Bobby Jindal, who is governor of Louisiana until noon on Jan. 11.
The incoming governor wants to remove a proposed change in food stamp eligibility requirements that could kick thousands of Louisiana residents off the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.
Jindal’s administration in October announced that it would not seek a federal waiver to allow low-income, able-bodied, unemployed adults without dependents to continue receiving food stamp benefits if they have not sought workforce training.
The change will go into effect Jan. 1, but Edwards, who takes office Jan. 11, is asking the federal government and the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services to avoid any interruption before he takes over.
“I will take the next year to work with DCFS and the Louisiana Legislature to develop programs that offer workforce training and assistance to those on SNAP benefits,” Edwards said in a statement.
We have mixed feelings about this issue. No one wants to see anyone going hungry; food stamps pay for $194 in groceries a month, not a sum that involves profiteering.
At the same time, we don’t see the hardship in asking the able-bodied without children to contribute to society, either directly working at a nonprofit, or training for a good job.
The rationale for the benefits: High unemployment rates indicate it is difficult to find jobs.
That may not be true in prosperous urban areas like Baton Rouge or New Orleans but we know that Edwards — having traveled the poorer sections of the state over the past year — does have insight into the difficulties in other regions, including the Mississippi and Red River delta parishes. Because of persistent high unemployment, the waiver has been in force for 19 years, before Jindal opted not to renew it this year.
This reversal costs the state no extra money but the federal taxpayer — as we all are — pays the tab.
If Edwards is going to reverse course on this, whatever their feelings, Jindal and DCFS should consider his request. If there is time and trouble, and thus money, in taking about 30,000 folks off the rolls and then putting them back on, then the old administration could reasonably defer to the new one on this point.
Still, it’s likely to be seen as a bit of a reach for a governor-elect today, not yet a governor.