New Year, new law, same story: The Legislature kicks the poor in the teeth (again) | Triangulator | Indy Week

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New Year, new law, same story: The Legislature kicks the poor in the teeth (again)

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The beginning of each New Year inevitably heralds the implementation of a bunch of crappy new laws from the General Assembly, and 2016 is no exception. Sigh. As has become customary, it's the state's poor population that will be hit hardest.

The latest attack ends a federal waiver designed to help poor people in economically distressed states. Under the 1996 Welfare Reform Law, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who are medically able to work and live in a household with no dependents are eligible for only three months of federal food and nutrition-services benefits over the course of a three-year period, and only then if they show that they are working, training to work or volunteering 80 hours per month.

But in 2008, at the onset of the Great Recession, 23 counties (including Wake, Durham and Orange) in North Carolina were allowed a federal waiver to that three-month limit so that these folks could, you know, eat. A law passed last legislative session, somewhat ironically called the Protect North Carolina Workers Act, lifts that federal waiver, because the Carolina Comeback has been so successful and everyone who wants a job now has one. Or something.

In Wake County, at least 2,000 people could be affected, says Regina Petteway, director of Wake County Human Services. In Durham, some 2,700 people will get to go hungry a little more often, according to a report given to the Durham County Commission Monday night.

"Our hands are tied, in that we can't help people outside the work, volunteering and job training aspect," says Wake County Commissioner John Burns. "We'll try to help them comply with the terms of the statute so they can qualify for assistance, but 20 hours a week is quite a bit when you may not have prospects for employment. This is yet another example of the Legislature taking shots at people who have trouble defending themselves."

Related: Because the poor have it way too damn easy, on Monday the state's Division of Employment Security announced that people filing new unemployment insurance claims have to make "five valid job contacts with potential employers for each week claimed," to prove they're really out there looking for work. Otherwise their benefits could be delayed or denied altogether.

So, that's 2016 off to a great start.

Reach the INDY's Triangulator team at triangulator@indyweek.com.

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