Most people in Florida who get food stamps are required to work in order to keep them.
A bill (HB 23) that’s slated to be heard by the full state House of Representatives would increase the penalties if people fail to meet those requirements. A now-competing bill in the state Senate would strike these penalties.
Individuals have to work at least 30 hours or be in some sort of job training or educational program in order to get food stamps. Two-parent families with children have to work more, at least 35 hours.
These requirements went back into effect after a six-year suspension to make it easier for families to put food on the table during the recession when there just weren’t jobs to be had.
This House bill would at least double the penalties for people who don’t meet those work requirements. For the first infraction, benefits would be suspended for a month, up from a penalty of 10 days; the penalty for a second infraction would increase from a month to three months; six months for a third infraction, up from three months; and finally a fourth infraction would now carry a one-year suspension, up from six months.
The new legislation expressly shields children from these penalties if they’re under 16. Their portion of the assistance would have to be collected by a work-requirement-compliant adult.
Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, originally introduced a very similar bill (SB 570) to the one in the House. But, at its first committee hearing—in the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee—he introduced an amendment striking those increased penalties, replacing them with a directive to study why people have trouble complying.
“We didn’t want to punish families without finding out why they were out of compliance. And then find a way to get them into compliance,” said Rouson. “It’s not about a continued handout; it’s about a supported hand up.”
The House version of the bill with the doubled penalties is set for a full vote. The Senate version without the increased penalties has two more committee votes it needs to clear.